Saturday’s Class 2A softball Macomb sectional championship between the West Hancock Titans and the Brimfield-Elmwood Indians didn’t lack for excitement, as each team’s pitcher settled into a battle where one swing could make all of the difference.
The game came down to who would get the favorable bounce, and when the ball stopped rolling and the dust settled Brimfield-Elmwood moved on to the super-sectional with a 2-1 victory.
The Indians tried to get something going in the top of the first inning as Kennedy Dura singled with one out and Morgan Florey was hit by a pitch with two down. The threat was negated as West Hancock first baseman Lexi Dooley made a diving play to force Bekka Roberts out at the bag.
The Titans saw their lead off hitter reach when Haleigh Hammel collected an infield single to start the ball game. After a strikeout Shelby Koehler drew a walk from Florey, but both runners were left stranded. It would be another 18 batters before West Hancock was able to get another base hit in the contest.
“She’s (Florey) one of the best we’ve seen and we knew it,” said West Hancock head coach Gena Dewald. “A few of my girls had seen that type of pitching before, but not many. Let’s face it, it’s tough to hit somebody who’s throwing 63 or 64 miles an hour with a riseball.
“We did get a couple of hits off her, but she’s an excellent pitcher.”
Koehler also settled into a groove on the mound for West Hancock, as both pitcher’s struck out the side in the second inning.
Brimfield-Elmwood led off the third with a single by Hannah Baysingar, who was sacrificed over to second by Kendra Gorham. Koehler got out of the jam by inducing a pop up and then a fly ball to right field.
Florey continued to show dominant stuff, striking out eight consecutive Titan batters at one point. In the first five innings of play, 13 of West Hancock’s 15 outs were by strikeout.
Koehler held her own in the circle, keeping the game scoreless with a steady mix of off-speed pitches. The Titans defense also stepped up to the challenge, making play after play in the field to keep the shutout intact.
“She did phenomenal,” said Dewald of her senior pitcher. “I knew if the umpire was going to give her that outside corner we could live there and they would not touch her. The changeup was working where we wanted it to. Our defense played great. I don’t think Keaghan (Shacklett) missed a ball. Karly (Mecklenburg) and Sidnee (Sawyer) had fly balls hit to them.
“We yell at them in practice every night to go after those fly balls and I saw them going after them. They were hustling.”
The Titans made their move in the bottom of the sixth inning when Hammel ripped a one out double to left center field. It was Hammel and the Titans second hit of the ball game.
With Hammel on second, Allison Dewald battled Florey to a two strike count before ripping a line drive to center field to push Hammel across the plate and give West Hancock a 1-0 lead.
“What more could I ask for?” said Dewald. “The top of the lineup, those three seniors have come through for me all year long. Ally had a great hit, she scored the run. We thought we were cruising at that point.”
Florey got two quick outs to end the threat in the bottom of the sixth and give the Indians one final chance in the seventh.
Gorham and Ryleigh Keith led off the seventh with walks to set up a single by Allison Pillman to score pinch-runner Abby Frietsch and tie the game at 1-1. Koehler quickly settled in and looked to stop the Indians rally.
Koehler got a pop fly to the second baseman Sawyer for the first out of the inning. With runners on first and second, Koehler forced a pop fly in foul territory by the first base bag. Dooley made the catch and threw home to keep the runner on third base at bay, but the ball skipped past the catcher Dewald and went to the fence.
Keith raced home from third as Koehler covered home plate. Dewald fired a strike to Koehler who laid the tag on Keith as she was sliding, but the call favored the Indians as Keith was ruled safe and Brimfield-Elwood took the lead 2-1.
“You have to play the game until the end,” Dewald said. “I thought we had it going in the top of the seventh. My hat’s off to them for coming back that inning and never giving up. It was a close call at home plate. It could have gone either way. But that’s how you play the game.
“We’ve had those calls before, too.”
Koehler struck out Dura to send West Hancock to the bottom of the seventh with its final chance.
Katie Shafer led off the inning with a hard hit ball to second base, but the play was made. Florey ended the Titans season by striking out her 15th and 16th batters to end the game.
Brimfield-Elmwood improved to 29-3 on the season with the victory. Dura, Roberts, Pillman, and Baysingar each had one hit.
The Indians season ended Monday in the DeKalb super-sectional. Rock Island Alleman advanced to state with a 10-5 victory.
West Hancock ended its season with a 27-4 record. Hammel was 2 for 3 and Dewald was 1 for 3 for the Titans.
“It’s tough because I’ve had them since second or third grade on up,” Dewald said. “I could see their little faces and they worked so hard. All of them. This is what they wanted. They wanted to make it to state. We were that close. I think they gave everything they had, and they should not be ashamed of what they’ve done throughout their careers.
“They’ve won a lot of big games.”