Big hits, kicks and jumps
When the ball left the bat of O’Fallon’s Kelly Short in the third inning of the Class 4A Normal Sectional softball tournament Friday, Moline coach Mark Gerlach had one thought.
“I thought it was out of here,” Gerlach said.
Only it wasn’t. Left fielder Kayla DePoorter reached over the fence to take away Short’s apparent 3-run home run, and the Maroons scratched out a run in the sixth inning, as Moline ended the Panthers’ season with a 1-0 win at Marie Kneer Stadium.
DePooter’s catch was just one of four gems turned in by the Maroons defense, which saved at least five runs and took away the Panthers’ hopes of a sectional championship.
“You could see she (DePooter) had a beat on the ball when it was hit. I think she knew she would have a chance to make the play,” you see Gerlach said. “We actually work on plays like that in practice.
“It was a well played game by both teams... Great defense by both teams, good pitching... How many times do you see a 1-0 score in a game like this?”
But DePoorta’s catch was the play of the year for the Maroons.
“I didn’t feel the fence, but I knew I was close to it,” a smiling DePoorter said. “I just went back, stuck the glove out and made the catch.
“I just wanted to do what I could to help my team win the game.”
The win lifts the Maroons (25-12) into the Normal super-sectional Monday at the same Marie Kneer Stadium, where they will take on Joliet West, which defeated Lockport 6-5 to win the Thornwood sectional Friday.
O’Fallon (25-10), meanwhile, ends its season thinking about what about what could have been. The Panthers had runners in scoring position against Moline pitchers Leeann Vande Voorde and Lindsey Glass in four of the seven innings. But each time, the Maroons came up with a defensive gem.
“We played very well. Hayleigh (Juenger) pitched well, we made the plays on defense and we hit the ball hard all day. Nothing fell in for us today,’’ Panthers coach Lauren Muniz said. “We’ve had a great season. It’s the first time in several years that O’Fallon softball won over 20 games. The girls played hard every night and left it on the field every night.
“That’s all you can ask.’’
But on this night it wasn’t enough. Two innings after DePoorter’s catch, center fielder Natalia Rivera raced into the gap to make a backhanded running catch on a line drive off the bat of Panthers junior Miley Brunner with runners on first and second and two outs.
Juenger also got excellent support from her defense, including a diving catch by shortstop Brunner in the fourth inning. But when Olivia Sanders drove a run-scoring single to right field in the sixth inning, the Maroons were three outs away from a sectional championship.
Vande Voorde, who re-entered the game on the mound with two outs in the sixth inning, was aided in the seventh inning by a superb play by second baseman Olivia Sanders. She then retired the final two hitters to give Moline the win.