Times may change.
But it always seems that Sullivan and Union somehow end up playing each other in a district softball championship game.
The top-seeded Lady Eagles (16-7) play Union (19-6) Friday afternoon at the Knights of Columbus Hall Field in Washington to determine the district winner.
“Yesterday was a great day for St. Louis,” said Union Head Coach Bill Juengel, a noted St. Louis Blues fan still celebrating the hockey win over Chicago. “But today was a good day for the Lady ’Cats. We’re just going to move on. We get to play one more game tomorrow.”
Sullivan advanced by eliminating Salem (15-9) in the second semifinal game Thursday, 10-0.
“The team was really ready to play,” said Sullivan Head Coach Ashley Crump. “We got rained out last weekend at the Rolla Tournament and have been practicing ever since, so I think it was time to return to game mode. I feel like everyone contributed offensively and that is key during the postseason.”
With the second and third seeds meeting each other, and having split the two games during the season, nobody really knew what to expect from Thursday’s semifinal game between the second-seeded Lady ’Cats and third-seeded Borgia.
What the fans got was the closest game of the tournament so far, a 5-3 Union victory. Union jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the game.
“We’ve been down in a number of games this year and we haven’t given up,” Westhoff said. “We gave ourselves a chance in the last two innings. We’ve had a lot of close games this year and a lot of comeback wins. We never did feel that we were out of the game.”
Union wasted little time in starting the offense. The Lady ’Cats pushed two runs across the plate in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back.
Leadoff batter Courtney Zweifel walked, was bunted to second by Kayla Kelly and scored on a ground-rule double by Shelby Miller.
Miller crossed the plate on a single by Megan Altemueller.
The Lady ’Cats extended their lead to 5-0 in the fourth. Jordan Thorpe reached on an error, was bunted to second by Jerica Reeser and scored when Sam Wickes reached base.
Wickes scored on a sacrifice fly by Kelly. Zweifel, who reached on a bunt, scored on another double by Miller.
Trailing 5-0, Borgia started to chip back.
“Scoring first is always huge in a game like this,” Juengel said. “Even though we were up 5-0, I knew there’s no quit in them and they were going to come back. It was an exciting game and we figured it was going to be that way.”
Westhoff said that was a situation which Borgia has seen often this year.
In the fifth, Kaylee Heggemann led off with a single and scored on a groundout by Payton Keene.
In the sixth, Taylor Nadler led off with a double, moved to third on a groundout and scored when Megan Jensen grounded out.
The Lady Knights started another rally when Michaela Morhaus singled with two outs, took second on an error and scored on a single by Heggemann.
Borgia had the tying run at the plate in the top of the seventh, but Janna Ruether coaxed two groundouts to end the game.
“She hung in there and worked out of it,” Juengel said. “She’s been really good over the last few weeks as has Shanna Carroll. We’re just real fortunate to have two good pitchers on our team.”
Ruether was the winning pitcher, going the distance while allowing three runs on nine hits. She struck out five.
Cali Witte pitched for Borgia and allowed five runs (two earned) on eight hits and four walks. She struck out three.
Miller led all Union hitters, going 4-4 with two doubles, one run and two RBIs.
Union’s other hits, all singles, came from Ruether, Zweifel, Altemueller, Reeser and Thorpe.
Borgia leadoff batter Katelyn Gratza went 4-4 in the game as well.
Borgia got two hits from Heggemann and one hit apiece from Nadler and Jensen. Nadler and Heggemann doubled.
“We only had three seniors,” Westhoff said,” but those three seniors (Nadler, Witte and Elizabeth Westhoff) have been starting for us for the past four years on the varsity level. It’s going to be tough losing those three players. They were the heart and soul of the team.”
The story of the game for Sullivan was senior pitcher Tessa Johanning, who tossed a five-inning no-hitter to eliminate Salem, 10-0.
“Tessa walked a few but settled in and did a nice job mixing her pitches,” Crump said.
Sullivan wasted no time in going to work offensively, scoring three times in the bottom of the first.
“Michala Martin really set the tone for the game when she roped the first pitch delivered by (Cortney) Putman up the middle (to start the game),” Crump said. “She has been a great leadoff for us and a fabulous team leader.”
The Lady Eagles added a Martin home run in the second and led 5-0 after two innings.
After three innings, Sullivan extended its lead to 9-0.
Sierra Pryor drove in Sullivan’s 10th run in the bottom of the fourth inning and the Lady Eagles held in the top of the fifth to secure the victory.
Both Union and Borgia won first-round games Wednesday by 7-1 scores.
Union defeated St. Clair (6-17) in the day’s second semifinal.
“We finally got it together toward the end and scored some runs,” Juengel said. “It was a fun game. We got things going. St. Clair came to play. Coach (Rob) Hauck really has done a good job with them this year and those girls really came to play. We had our hands full.”
Salem had won the first game of the day over St. James, 10-3. Salem advanced to play Sullivan in the semifinals Thursday.
The Union-St. Clair game was scoreless until the fourth inning. Union scored twice in that frame and added one run in the fifth.
St. Clair scored once in the sixth, but Union scored four times in the bottom of the inning.
Sheena Carroll went the distance for Union to get the win. She allowed one unearned run on seven hits while striking out three.
Bri Branscum took the loss for St. Clair. In six innings, according to St. Clair’s scorebook, she allowed seven runs, five earned, on nine hits with four walks and one strikeout.
“Union is a good team and they were able to find some holes that we were not able to find. Defensively, we made some great plays early on and were able to keep them from scoring some runs,” said St. Clair Head Coach Rob Hauck. “I give credit to Bri Branscum for making Union put the ball in play and letting our defense work. Our offense struggled and we needed to be able to put more pressure on Union. The game was back and forth and an early run either way could have changed a lot.”
Megan Altemueller, Kirsten Dierberg, Shelby Miller and Courtney Zweifel each had two hits.
Miller and Zweifel doubled. Dierberg, Sam Wickes and Zweifel drove in two runs apiece.
Karissa Hoffman finished with one hit and one run for the Lady Bulldogs. Marissa Laubinger added one hit and one RBI.
“Our goal was to play our best softball at the end of the year and I have no doubt that we did that,” Hauck said. “Our girls came out fired up and we played a really good softball game. I’m proud of our girls for the way they played this game and this season.”
Borgia earned its victory after sweating through most of the game against the Dutchgirls.
Borgia scored once in the first and then broke a 1-1 tie with six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Cali Witte went the distance to get the win for Borgia. She allowed one unearned run on six hits and three walks. Witte struck out three.
“We got a gutsy performance from Cali,” Westhoff said. “She just got off crutches Tuesday. We knew that would be a tough game. The first meeting was 1-0 in eight innings. This one was 1-1 going into the sixth. We knew it would be a real barn-burner.”
Offensively, Katelyn Gratza and Taylor Nadler each had two hits. Alyssa Hercules, Payton Keene and Michaela Morhaus recorded one hit each.
Gratza scored twice. Rachel Boley and Nadler each drove in two runs.