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WATSEKA — The answer was simple.
In a Class 2A Watseka Sectional semifinal softball matchup last Wednesday in which there were moving parts on seemingly every pitch, which featured a rally practically every inning and which saw Seneca put 19 runners on base and Paxton-Buckley-Loda have 17 girls reach, the difference in the game could be summed up so very quickly.
“We didn’t come through with that timely hit today. We have in games past,” PBL coach Lindsey Alred said.
It was an honest assessment and one that reinforced a crucial postseason lesson: It’s what you do with opportunities that matters most. In this one, the Irish took advantage of more of theirs, earning 10-5 win. Seneca scored seven of its runs with two outs, while PBL left 11 runners on base, including seven in the first three innings.
The Panthers laced together some of their best at-bats of the season against Irish ace Nicole Pihl, one of the hardest-throwing pitchers they’d faced all season. As Alred put it, her team “did what we wanted to at the plate” and made Pihl labor, as a patient approach helped the Panthers draw four walks and record eight hits.
Still, the first inning foreshadowed what kind of day it would be for PBL. Seneca didn’t record a hit in its first bats but managed to grab a 2-0 lead in the top half with the help of a PBL error, a hit by pitch and two wild pitches, one of which allowed a run to score and a runner to reach on what would’ve been an inning-ending strikeout by lefty hurler Liz Satterlee.
In its half, PBL pounded out three hits and drew a walk, yet somehow managed just a single run on an Amanda Ypya RBI single, leaving the bases loaded after that.
PBL’s biggest missed opportunity would come later. Even after falling behind 8-1 through three and a half innings, the Panthers got back in it, scoring three times in the bottom of the fourth, highlighted by an RBI double Ypya (2-for-4, three RBIs). PBL then cut it to 8-5 in the bottom of the sixth, but later in the frame, with the bases loaded, one out and the go-ahead run at the plate, Pihl got out of a jam by striking out Paige Schwartz and retiring Brittany Walder on a groundout.
“PBL battled and did a nice job getting back into it. In the postseason, you’ll take any kind of win you can get,” Seneca coach Dan Stecken said.
“We kept battling,” Alred added. “We’re not going to quit. We keep putting the ball in play. It just didn’t go our way.”
Pihl picked up the win for Seneca (27-10), throwing seven innings and allowing five runs, four earned. She was helped by Sarah Radtke, who went 2-for-4 with a home run and two runs. Satterlee took the loss for PBL, (24-9), going all seven innings and allowing 10 runs, six earned, on 12 hits and three walks while striking out seven. Cat Ekstrom doubled, scored twice and walked twice for the Panthers, and Brooke Allen and JJ Valentine each had a hit and a run scored.
“I’m proud of my girls. They didn’t give up at all. We refused to give up, and that’s how it’s been all year. Hats off to Seneca, they’re a great team. They hit the ball hard,” Alred said before adding what she would look back most fondly on.
“They’re a tight-knit group of girls. They picked each other up when things were good, when things were bad. They had everybody’s back along the way ... They don’t have anything to hang their heads about. It was a fun ride.”