OTTAWA – With the way both pitchers were piling up goose eggs, it was going to take a special at-bat to break the extra-inning scoreless tie and end Tuesday evening’s Sterling at Ottawa NIB-12 West softball showdown.
In the bottom of the ninth, Pirates sophomore No. 5 hitter Cassie Turk delivered exactly that.
Turk fouled off five straight offerings from Golden Warriors hurler Jayme Eilers before tomahawking an eye-high 0-2 pitch over the drawn-in left fielder’s head to drive in Jenna Nink with the winning run as the Pirates and ace Sloan Gayan outdueled Sterling and Eilers at King Field, 1-0 in nine innings, to earn a conference series split.
Ottawa, which lost to Sterling in walk-off fashion 8 days earlier and saw the Golden Warriors move ahead of them in this week’s Illinois Coaches Association (ICA) rankings as a result, moves to 13-2 overall, 4-1 NIB 12 West.
The Golden Warriors are now 17-2, 4-1.
“The whole game was on the line, and we hadn’t had baserunners almost the entire game,” Turk said of her game-deciding at-bat. “Nine innings in and I’m up to bat, all I can think about is hitting the ball.
“So when I got that hit, it was amazing. ... It wasn’t even a strike, I don’t think, but that’s OK.”
Turk’s game-winning RBI single ended a home half of the ninth which started with a Nink rocket single into center and a picture-perfect sacrifice bunt off the bat of Lauren Carlson. An out turned into an error after appeal on a hard-hit Gayan grounder to third, and an intentional walk to cleanup batter Molly Harris loaded the bases with one away to bring up Turk.
“That’s a pressure situation, and [Turk] came through for her team,” said Sterling coach Becki Edmondson. “That’s a great at-bat for her.
“... We knew coming into today that it was going to be a pitchers’ duel. We talked about making adjustments at the plate, and we really didn’t do that. And not getting bunts down in key situations, we’ve talked about that since Day 1, when we’re in big games against these good teams, if you can’t do the little things right, you’re not going to win.”
In the early going, it was Sterling which threatened to get on the board, with runners in each of the opening three innings, including a pair in the first on back-to-back walks drawn by Grace and Gretchen Gould. University of Kentucky-bound Gayan (11-2), however, worked her way out of all of those threats, allowing just two hits on the day – to Genea Garza in the second, and Riley Dittmar in the third.
Eilers (16-1), a Western Carolina commit, was every bit as good in the bottom halves, but as the game continued, the Lady Pirates managed to threaten, with Nink – the day’s only multi-hit performer with two singles – getting to second after a single and stolen base in the sixth, and Abi Claus singling and advancing to second in the eighth.
That was pretty much it against Gayan (9 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 3 BB, 8 K) and Eilers (8 1/3 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 7 K) until the fateful final frame.
“We obviously let that last game [at Sterling] slip away ... so it was good to have an equally-competitive game going to the ninth, and it takes a bases-loaded walk-off to get the only run in,” Ottawa coach Adam Lewis said. “... Credit to Cassie for getting down 0-2 but breathing, staying with her plan and fouling enough off until she got one she could drive.”
The NIB-12 West race is far from over, though.
“Our conference this year, we have so many teams on both sides that are top-10 in the state [rankings],” Edmondson said. “So it really puts the pressure on us for every game – and we like it, because we feel it really prepares us for the postseason.”