Big hits, kicks and jumps
O’’Fallon junior Miley Brunner played the role of catalyst to perfection Tuesday against Southwestern Conference rival Edwardsville.
The Panthers’ leadoff hitter, Brunner collected two of her three hits and scored twice — in the first two innings — as O’Fallon jumped out to a 6-0 lead and never looked back in a 7-1 win over Edwardsville in the Class 4A Normal Community Softball Sectional.
O”Fallon (25-9) wasted little time in getting to Edwardsville starting pitcher Kay Swanson as Brunner, Ashley Scholer and Kelly Short all reached base and scored as part of a four-run first inning.
Swanson was removed in favor of Ryleigh Owens after Brunner led off the second inning, but the Panthers added two more runs to take a 6-0 lead.
With ace Hayleigh Juenger on the mound , the six-run lead was more than enough as O’Fallon moved into the sectional title game on Saturday against either Moline or Rock Island at Normall Community High School beginning at 11 a.m. The win is also O’Fallon’s second in three games against Edwardsville this season after the two perennial SWC powers split during the regular season.
“It means a little more to beat Edwardsville because they are always so strong and so well coached,’’ Brunner said. “We felt like getting out to a lead was a key for us. Once we did that we just tried to keep the pressure on.’’
Juenger never let Edwardsville put any pressure on. Mixing her pitches well, Juenger didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and gave only one unearned run in pitching the complete game.
But before she ever took the mound on a hot and windy Tuesday afternoon, Juenger had been staked to a four-run lead. Four Panthers players, including Short and Zoie Howard, drove in runs in the first inning as the Panthers set the tone early.
“We knew we had to come out with a lot of energy and put the pressure on them early. We talked about it and we executed in the first inning,’’ O’Fallon coach Lauren Muniz said. “Then coming right back with a couple more runs was also huge.
“When you get out to a big lead there is sometimes a lull and that’s when a team like Edwardsville can take advantage and get back in the game. We didn’t let that happen. Plus, with Hayleigh on the mound it doesn’t matter if we’re up by six runs, tied or getting beat, you always know that she’s going to give us a chance to win. She did that again today.’’
Edwardsville (24-5) was never able to get a good read on Juenger’s pitches on Tuesday and could never recover from the early six-run deficit.
“They (O’Fallon) were hitting good pitches. It’s hard to come back from a deficit like today against a good team,’’ Tigers coach Lori Blade said. “And offensively we didn’t do a very good job of adjusting at times.’’