Pilot Grove freshman Grace Phillips had no idea that the game would rest on her shoulders Wednesday night in a Class 1 Sectional game against 24-0 Vienna.
But after the Lady Tigers tied the game at 3-all in the bottom half of the seventh against Vienna, Phillips would face the biggest at bat of her career with the winning run on third and two outs. With a single earlier in the ballgame off of Vienna pitcher Jordyn Steffen, Phillips delivered the biggest hit of the night, possibly the season, with a RBI single up the middle for a 4-3 victory.
Phillips said she was trying to hit it and get the winning run in and get her teammates pumped up.
“We needed some hits and I just came in clutch,” Phillips said. “When I hit the ball I just focused on running and didn’t pay attention to anything else. But I didn’t expect to be the one to come up with the winning hit. Definitely not being a freshman. There is a lot of pressure anyways but we came out and our energy was really high and we just played to the very end and never gave up.”
That hit now puts the Lady Tigers (23-3) one step closer to their second Final Four in as many years. But first, Pilot Grove must get by Salisbury in a quarterfinal game Saturday in Salisbury starting at 1 p.m. Like Pilot Grove, Salisbury won its sectional game Wednesday night in Silex 8-0.
Commenting on the hit by Phillips, Pilot Grove coach Neal Bailey said that was huge.
“You don’t see a freshman do that,” Bailey said. “That wasn’t her only hit of the game, though. That’s nails right there for a sectional game in a tied ballgame, bottom of the seventh and you are walking it off with a freshman. It was exciting stuff. This wasn’t our best game defensively but we hung in there. Our big thing is let stuff go and work on the next one. Forget about it and move on. It’s wasn’t our best defensive outing by far and it wasn’t our best offensive outing by far. We had opportunities to score more runs than that but it worked out in the end so we aren’t going to complain too much about it.”
All the matters now is that Pilot Grove is moving on to the quarterfinal round on Saturday against Salisbury.
Needless to say it didn’t look good for the Lady Tigers, who had given up three runs but only one earned through 6 1/2 innings.
But none of that mattered until the seventh when Pilot Grove put together a remarkable comeback down 3-1.
After a lead off double by senior Emily Schupp to left center field, the Lady Tigers caught a huge break when Abby Schupp reached on a error by the Vienna shortstop. Then, after intentionally walking Melanie Wolfe to load the bases, Steffen came back to get Samarah Bailey on a flyout to short. Natalie Rentel then came up with a clutch single to center to score two runs to tie the game at 3-all.
With Wolfe standing only 70 feet away from scoring the winning run, Steffen came back and recorded her sixth strikeout of the game for two outs in the inning. However, with Phillips next at the plate, the freshman shook off a 2-2 count with a single to center for the winning run.
The Lady Tigers also had a few tense moments earlier in the ballgame when Vienna led off the game with one run in the first on a walk and a RBI-single to center by Steffen.
But none of that mattered until the third when Wolfe hit her team-leading 13th home run of the season and 46th RBI deep and over the fence in left field to tie the game at 1-all.
Pilot Grove also had a golden opportunity to score in the second inning with runners on second and third with two outs before ending the inning on a strikeout.
Meanwhile, after a scoreless fourth inning by both teams, Vienna stranded one runner in its half of the fifth while the Lady Tigers loaded the bases in the bottom half of the inning after a lead off single to center by Emily Schupp, an intentional walk and a hit batter. Unfortunately for Pilot Grove, that came to an end when Steffen struck out the next batter to end the inning.
In the sixth inning, Vienna broke the 1-1 tie with one run on two hits and a costly error on a throw down to second, which got by the center fielder. Then, after a 1-2-3 inning by Pilot Grove in its half of the sixth, Vienna tacked on another run in the seventh to go up 3-1 after a lead off walk and a throwing error to second on a hit back to the pitcher.
However in the seventh, the Lady Tigers needed a miracle and they got one on three key hits with the lead off double by Emily Schupp, a two-RBI single to center by Rentel and a game-winning RBI single to center by Phillips for the come from behind victory.
Bailey said the lead off double by Schupp was big.
“We have to get Emily on base,” Bailey said. “We had trouble scoring early on because she wasn’t on. We rely on her to get on to kind of set the pace for everything. She wasn’t able to get on the first-two times but the last two times she was able to get on and that’s when we scored. That’s big to get her in scoring position right away in the seventh. I knew they would walk Mel after she crushed it earlier and hit it 400 feet. I am proud of the girls for hanging in there. They could have said this is a good team let’s shut down but they didn’t and kept working.”
Wolfe said she was just happy to get the win, especially being at home.
“I knew that if they intentionally walked me in the seventh that my teammates behind me could do it because Samarah can hit and Natalie can hit and everybody else can hit,” Wolfe said. “Grace’s hit was awesome. I am so proud of her. “
Samarah Bailey picked up the win in the circle for Pilot Grove, her 21st of the season, while Steffen took the loss for Vienna. Bailey, 21-3 on the season, pitched all seven innings and gave up three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out 11. Steffen, meanwhile, pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed four runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out six batters.
Pilot Grove also out-hit Vienna 8-6, with Wolfe going 2-for-2 with a single, home run and one RBI. Emily Schupp was 2-for-4 with a single and a double while Phillips had two singles and one RBI. Rentel finished the game with a single and two RBIs while Abby Schupp had one single.
For Vienna, Karissa Freeler had two singles while Steffen, Molly Otto, Rachel Garro and Gabrielle Wilkinson added one single each.