Ally Dunaway pitches with touch, deception and feel. All those things worked for her during her first pass through Freeburg’s order Tuesday.
None of those things applied to the second and third trips through the Midgets’ lineup, when they worked over the Marion ace for eight hits and five runs and wiped out the Wildcats’ early lead en route to a 5-2 win in the Class 3A Herrin softball Sectional semifinals at Jilek Field.
Marion finished 28-5, its best season under fifth-year coach Joy Neal, while Freeburg (24-6) will play the Herrin-Highland winner at 11 a.m. Saturday in the championship game.
“We made a couple of errors behind her and you can’t win games with errors,” Neal said. “With that being said, they made an adjustment against her.”
According to Midgets center fielder Lauren Thoma, whose two-run double to left capped a three-run fourth that gave her team the lead for good, the key adjustment was moving up in the batter’s box.
“We had a lot more patience than we had before,” Thoma said.
Dunaway mowed through the first three innings in just 33 pitches, fanning four. Freeburg’s lone baserunner was the result of an error, and there were two hard-hit balls out of the first 10 batters.
Marion couldn’t do much with Midgets pitcher Miranda Schulte, but did score first.
Left fielder Cheyenne Stacy, whose diving catch near the line prevented a run in the second, dumped a two-out, two-run double just inside the left field line.
Jenny Homann’s leadoff double that short-hopped the left field fence in the fourth was a sign of things to come. She scored an out later on a single by Josie Ledbetter, and with two outs, Thoma ripped a 2-0 pitch past a diving Stacy for a 3-2 Freeburg edge.
Schulte added insurance an inning later, launching a two-out, two-run homer to center a pitch after coach Ben Howes called timeout to consult with her.
Not that Schulte needed the extra runs. She retired the last 10 hitters she faced, even though Marion did a reasonable job of working the count and spoiling pitches. Schulte’s riser and screwball led to a spate of easy outs.
“Miranda really pitched a gem, didn’t she? She pitched a great, great game,” Howes said.
While the Wildcats wanted to take another step forward, they can take solace in the fact that they return seven starters next year.
“Every year, we’ve gotten a little closer to a regional (title), and we got it this year,” Neal said. “We had a real good group of girls. That makes all the difference.”