The key was three.
That number played a huge role in the East Central College softball Falcons winning the NJCAA Division II Region 16 championship in Farmington Saturday.
ECC (30-20) defeated tournament host Mineral Area College, 7-2, to capture its third consecutive Region 16 championship.
“It feels good,” ECC freshman pitcher Sarah Westhoff (Washington) said after pitching the Falcons to two of their three wins in the event. “This is my first year. It feels good and I’m ready to come back next year.”
ECC will host Oklahoma’s Murray State College (7-35) in the District J Tournament Friday and Saturday. The best-of-three series starts with games at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The if-needed game is set for Saturday at noon. The winner advances to the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
Other key threes:
• The Falcons were undefeated in the tournament, going 3-0 (with other wins over Cottey, 14-3, and St. Louis Community College, 6-1);
• ECC started the bottom of the first with three consecutive bunts to plate the game’s first run and never looked back; and
• Westhoff, wearing No. 30, went the distance in the circle while earning the win.
“This game was what I call real softball,” East Central Head Coach Brad Wallach said. “The game started with (Kierstin) Monzyk (New Haven) bunting for a hit, (Michelle) Bryant (Crocker) executing a bunt and run, and (Haley) Zenner (Dubuque, Iowa) laying down a perfect squeeze play. After three batters, three bunts, and about five pitches, we’re up 1-0.”
The Falcons didn’t let up from there. ECC added a run in the second, two in the third and two in the fourth.
“From that point on, our attack was relentless, scoring in each of the first five innings. We broke their spirit early and when they finally did score in the fifth, we came right back and answered with a run in the bottom half of the inning.”
The Falcons ended with 16 hits in the contest.
Westhoff worked around jams, but never got flustered during the game.
“I just tried to stay as focused as much as I could,” Westhoff said. “I know how to pitch and what to throw to how the batter is standing. I just know what to do. The defense helped a lot. They always have my back.”
The two Mineral Area runs came in the top of the fifth when the Falcons held a comfortable lead. Westhoff got help from her defense as well to earn the victory.
“Sarah pitched another great game and we played very well as a team,” Wallach said. “It feels good to see all the hard work we’ve put in, come to fruition. It’s been a very challenging year, but a fun year. We’d just like to keep it going as long as possible and keep hanging together as a team.”
Westhoff allowed two unearned runs on six hits. She struck out four Cardinals in the game.
Westhoff credited Wallach.
“He pushed us a lot,” Westhoff said. “He was always telling us that we needed to pick it up and we did.”
Monzyk proved to be the catalyst at the top of the lineup, going 4-4 with two runs on the day. She was able to place bunts between Mineral Area fielders, setting the tone for the ECC offense.
Ashley Hill (Centralia) had three hits, including a two-run home run to right field in the bottom of the third. She had three RBIs on the day and scored once.
Brittany Miller (Lindbergh) ended with two hits, a run and an RBI from the ninth spot in the order.
Westhoff helped her own cause with two hits and a sacrifice.
Five Falcons had one hit each.
Alex Adelsberger (Timberland) singled, scored and added a sacrifice.
Bryant had one hit, a walk, a sacrifice and scored a run.
Kaitlyn Evans (Washington) posted one hit. She stole a base and scored.
Claire Smith (Owensville) had one hit as the designated player.
Zenner had one hit, two RBIs and a sacrifice as well as being hit by a pitch.