Achieving milestones, the East Central College softball Falcons captured the NJCAA Division II Region 16 Tournament title Saturday afternoon in Union.
ECC (26-30) went 3-1 in the tournament, defeating St. Louis Community College in the winner-take-all game Saturday afternoon.
During the event, ECC:
• Defeated St. Louis Community College Friday in the first round, 6-4;
• Defeated Mineral Area College Friday in the winners’ bracket championship in eight innings, 12-8;
• Lost to St. Louis Community College Saturday in eight innings, 3-2; and
• Defeated St. Louis Community College Saturday in the winner-take-all game, 1-0.
“There’s a sign in our team room that says ‘Those Who Stay Will Become Champions!’ And these young ladies fulfilled that prophecy,” said ECC Head Coach Brad Wallach. “All season, we’ve worked to get better. We got better this weekend and we’ll work hard to get better this week. There is no finish line.”
The Falcons remain at home Friday and Saturday, hosting the District J Tournament. The Region 2 champion, Murray State College of Tishomingo, Okla., will visit for a best-of-three series starting Friday afternoon in Union.
The first game is scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. with the second game to follow at 4 p.m.
The if-needed game will be played Saturday at a time to be announced.
The winner advances to the NJCAA Division II national tournament May 17-19 in Clinton, Miss.
The Falcons last won a regional title in 2007 and last advanced to the national tournament in 1994, finishing ninth. The 1977 team placed fifth.
After going undefeated Friday with wins over St. Louis Community College and Mineral Area College, the Falcons came down to the winner-take-all game Saturday afternoon. The Archers made certain Saturday would be a doubleheader, winning the first championship game in extra innings, 3-2.
But in the final contest, the Falcons emerged with a 1-0 victory.
“This was gut-check time and pitching and defense stepped up big,” Wallach said. “St. Louis had three of their four baserunners in the first two innings.”
Sophomore Brooke Brenton (Lebanon) pitched for the Falcons and earned the shutout. She allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out one.
“Along with good defense, Brooke retired 18 out of the next 19 batters,” Wallach said. “The grand irony was that as difficult as it had been to score runs all day, the winning run came home on a walk.”
ECC scored the game’s only tally in the top of the sixth inning. Freshman Kris Stevens (Union) started the rally with a single. Sophomore Nicole Thompson (Winfield) followed with another single. Freshman Amber Odom (Linn) made it three singles in a row and the bases were loaded.
Freshman Julie Scheer (New Haven) drew a walk to force home Stevens with the run.
Offensively, the Falcons rapped out nine hits to three for St. Louis. Neither side made an error.
Freshman Jessica Jones (Wright City) had three hits and two stolen bases.
Stevens ended with two hits and a stolen base to go with the run.
Brenton, Odom, Scheer and Thompson had the other hits. Brenton doubled and Scheer also walked.
First Title Game
The Falcons had a chance to win the title in one game Saturday, but St. Louis Community College rallied to win it in the bottom of the eighth, 3-2.
“This was a heart breaker,” Wallach said. “We had left 10 runners in scoring position and defensively made it too easy for them to score. In the end we wasted a good pitching performance by Julie. What we could have made easy now became much more difficult.”
ECC scored in the top of the first and again in the top of the fourth. St. Louis Community College got one run back in the bottom of the fourth and tied it in the bottom of the sixth. The winning run scored in the bottom of the eighth.
Each side had just five hits in the game, but ECC made five errors to three for St. Louis.
Scheer went 7.2 innings, allowing three unearned runs on five hits and one walk. She struck out six.
Offensively, Stevens had two of the hits, both doubles. She drove in a run and added a sacrifice.
Freshman Keely Hill (Reeds Spring), Jones and Scheer each added one hit. Hill scored, walked and was hit by a pitch. Jones scored, walked and stole a base.
Freshman Grace Fritz (Borgia) walked twice. Sophomore Rhiannon Edler (Owensville) drew one walk.
Playing in the winners’ bracket championship game Friday afternoon against top seed Mineral Area College, the Falcons won a 12-8 shootout in eight innings.
Mineral Area opened scoring in the bottom of the first with a home run.
“This was a barnburner from the beginning,” said Wallach. “Mineral Area sent a shot over the fence in the first so it was huge when Kris and Nicole answered with back to back home runs in the second.”
The Falcons jumped on top with back-to-back home runs by Stevens and Thompson. Mineral Area scored in the bottom of the frame to tie it at 2-2 after two full innings.
The Falcons scored once in the third, but Mineral Area put two runs on the board in the fourth and four more in the fifth.
“They led off the fifth with a solo home run and we brought in Brooke to relieve Julie,” Wallach said. “The next two batters went double and two-run homer and then they added another run to make it 8-3.”
Down to its final three outs, East Central went on a five-run rally in the top of the seventh to tie it and then held in the bottom of the inning.
“Before the seventh inning, I reminded the girls that five days earlier, we scored six runs in the seventh to beat Rend Lake and the team responded with five in the seventh to tie and four more in the eighth to win. That doesn’t happen twice in one week by accident; that comes from believing in oneself. That’s a much different mental makeup than where we started this season.”
In the top of the eighth, Thompson blasted her second home run of the game, a two-run shot, to highlight a four-run inning. The Falcons escaped the bottom of the inning to emerge from Friday undefeated.
The Falcons outhit Mineral Area, 14-9. The Cardinals made four errors to East Central’s two.
Scheer started the game and went four innings, allowing five unearned runs on five hits and two walks. Two of the hits were home runs. She struck out one.
Brenton was the winning pitcher, allowing three unearned runs on four hits and three walks. She gave up one home run.
Offensively, a number of different players contributed to the win.
Thompson had two hits, the home runs, and scored three runs while driving in three.
Freshman Chloe Galati (Borgia) rapped out three hits while scoring once.
Others with two hits each were Brenton, Fritz and Scheer.
Brenton scored twice. Fritz walked and Scheer scored a run.
Edler had one hit, two runs and a walk.
Hill had one hit and two walks.
Jones scored a run.
Stevens ended with a home run, two runs, two RBIs and a sacrifice. She also was hit by a pitch.
Seeded third among four teams, the Falcons opened play Friday by beating second-ranked St. Louis Community College, 6-4.
“We controlled this game most of the way and made it interesting at the end,” Wallach said. “I enjoyed the first six innings much more than the seventh.”
The Falcons took the lead with a run in the top of the first and added two more runs in the top of the fourth. The Archers scored once in the bottom of the fourth to make it 3-1.
ECC scored single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings before the Archers responded with three runs in the bottom of the seventh to end on a surge.
ECC posted 11 hits to nine for St. Louis. The Archers made two errors to East Central’s one.
Scheer pitched the full game for the Falcons, allowing four runs (three earned) on nine hits and one walk. She struck out five.
Brenton, Fritz and Scheer each had two hits in the game.
Brenton doubled, scored and drove in one run.
Fritz doubled and drove in a run.
Scheer drove in two runs.
Edler had one hit, a run and a sacrifice.
Hill ended with one hit, a run and a stolen base while also being hit by a pitch.
Jones had one hit, a run and a stolen base.
Stevens posted one hit, a run and a stolen base.
Thompson had a double, a run, an RBI and was hit by a pitch.
Freshman Amber Odom (Linn) was hit by a pitch.