It took a two-out, walk-off hit for the top-seeded team to get past the semifinals of the most balanced Class 4A softball regional in the metro-east.
Belleville East sophomore Jessica Belzer roped a two-out line drive to the fence and junior Quiozha Alexander scored all the way from first base to lift the Belleville East Lancers to a 2-1 walk-off win over fourth-seeded O’Fallon.
East coach Natalie Peters says her team’s nip-and-tuck victory typified the kind of tournament she expected.
“We knew this was going to be a really tough game because we had one-run games with them before and we know whoever wins (Wednesday’s second semifinal) is going to be coming for us,” Peter said. “It’s a dog fight just getting out of this regional.”
The tournament continues at Belleville East Wednesday at 4:30 with a game between No. 2 seeded Collinsville (16-15) and No. 3 Belleville West (21-13). The winner will face the Lancers (23-9) for the regional championship Saturday.
In Tuesday’s semifinal, each team got a first-inning home run from their third-place hitters — Addison Barnouski for O’Fallon and Alex Boze for East — before the pitchers took over the tempo of the game.
The game remained tied until the bottom of the seventh. Annie Eversman led off for East with a double but was caught in a run down on a ground ball to third base by Alexander. Belzer then ended the game with a solid hit into the left-center field gap.
“We had Q running on the pitch because she is one of our fastest runners and we knew if Belzer could get one in the gap she could score,” Peters said. “But really, we just wanted Belz to see-ball, hit one hard.
“The whole mindset in the bottom of the seventh was ‘let’s win it,’ because we didn’t want to have to go back out there in the eighth.”
East junior starter Angela Vanderpluym held O’Fallon to just four hits before setting down the last eight she faced. She struck out five and walked none.
The Panthers had their chances to break the 1-1 tie before the game reached the seventh.
O’Fallon’s Sami Stadts led off the second with a single then stole second with nobody out. Vanderpluym got out of the jam by striking out the side.
In the fourth, Stadts and Allison Underwood reached with hits and put themselves into scoring position with a double steal with one. But, again, Vanderpluym skirted trouble with a pair of fly balls on the infield.
In the fifth, O’Fallon junior Cassie Brown reached with a one-out double off the outstretched glove of East shortstop Lindsey Mossman and was successfully moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Ginger Huskey. But Vanderpluym left Brown stranded by striking out the next batter.
“I was just saying to myself that I know my teammates are not going to quit,” Vanderpluym said. “I didn’t want to quit on them.”
The junior pitcher might have run into more trouble in the sixth when she faced the Nos. three, four and five batters in the Panthers’ lineup, which were a combined four-for-six entering the inning. She retired them on six pitches.
“That was a huge inning for Angie. I don’t have the words for how big that was,” Peter said. “She’s just a fighter. I’m proud of all the girls, but I’m especially proud of Angie for attacking the strike zone and trusting the defense behind her to make plays.”
O’Fallon pitcher Addison Barnouski held East to just three hits until the decisive bottom of the seventh. She struck out two, walked none and hit two batters. The Panthers’ season ends at 11-19.