The last two years, Southwestern High School put an end to the Litchfield Lady Panthers softball season - once in the regional semifinals and last year in the sectional opener. As it turned out, the third time was the charm for the Litchfield High School softball team as they knocked off their South Central Conference rivals by a 5-1 final score to advance to Tuesday's sectional on their home field.
"I asked them yesterday at practice if they realized that Southwestern had knocked them out of either regionals or sectionals the last two years and they didn't," Coach Jennifer Bitter said after the win. "That was just more fire for them to go out and do it."
While three was the charm, two was the lucky number for Litchfield as a crucial double play in the top of the fourth turned out to be a key play in the game.
Through the first three innings, the two teams combined for just one hit, a single by Southwestern's Meghan Peuterbaugh, and two base runners, both of which were for the Piasa Birds.
Southwestern would get a rally going in the top of the fourth though with a single by Katie Wooldridge and a double by Lindsey Snyder that put runners on second and third with no one out.
Litchfield would get one out on a nice play by third baseman Riley Scharf, who snagged a foul pop up between third and home before it could hit the ground.
Freshman Rae Brandon would come to the plate for Southwestern, looking to get a bunt down to drive in the first run for either team. The situation was something that the Lady Panthers were familiar with.
"We always work on in practice, if there is a runner on third, to look back and then go one," Coach Bitter said. "And Tessa Beckham did exactly what she should have. She got the ball, she fielded it cleanly, looked back and threw to first."
After taking Beckham's throw at first, Litchfield second baseman alertly threw a perfect strike to home, where Wooldridge was trying to score. Catcher Kendall Davee would get the tag down to complete the 1-4-2 double play and get the Lady Panthers out of trouble.
"They were all fired up and I think that's ultimately what helped us score that next inning," Coach Bitter said. "If you take that play away, then we might not have scored. I think that was a big key play for us."
The momentum from the double play turned into three runs for the Lady Panthers in the bottom of the third, starting with their first hit of the game, a leadoff double by Lexi Law.
Scharf would match Law's double with one of her own to drive in her teammate and give Litchfield a 1-0 lead. Scharf would move to third on a single by Tessa Steffens, who stole second to put two runners in scoring position with no outs.
Abby Frerichs would load the bases with a single after Southwestern's Bailee Stahl faked the throw to first, unsuccessfully trying to get Scharf to wander off third.
Helping her own cause, Tessa Beckham would drive in Scharf on a sacrifice fly to right field, with Steffens and Frerichs moving up a base on the throw home. Peyton Matthews would make it a 3-0 game with a single just over the Southwestern shortstop's head before Stahl would get the final two outs to end the inning.
After a quick 1-2-3 inning on the mound for Beckham, Litchfield would add another run in the fifth when Law walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a double by Scharf that glanced off the glove of the diving Southwestern shortstop.
With two on and one out, Steffens popped up to centerfield, plenty deep enough to score the speedy Law and make it 4-0 in the Lady Panthers' favor.
Southwestern would cut the lead to three when Hannah Wilfong singled to start the inning and scored on an RBI single just out of reach of Law at short. Beckham would avoid any further damage though as she coaxed two straight ground balls that resulted in fielder's choices, walked a batter, then struck out Brandon to end the inning.
Litchfield would tack on an insurance tally in the bottom of the sixth as Matthews stroked a one-out triple down the right field line and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Davee one batter later.
Southwestern would get a single in the top of the seventh from Peuterbaugh as they tried to keep their season alive. Beckham would strike out the next two batters though, leaving the Piasa Birds down to their last out.
Leadoff hitter Hannah Wilfong would work a 2-2 count before sending a ground ball to Steffens at second. The Litchfield junior would over throw first, but Matthews would recover the ball and throw to third to get Peuterbaugh for the final out of the game.
After going hitless in their first three innings, Litchfield would outhit Southwestern 7-5 as both Beckham and Stahl turned in solid outings.
Beckham would allow one run on five hits while striking out six and walking three. Stahl, who like Beckham is a freshman, allowed five runs on seven hits and a walk and also struck out one batter.
Both Scharf and Matthews would go 2-for-3 with a run scored, while Scharf also had an RBI in the win. Lexi Law would also score twice in the game, while Steffens accounted for the other run scored.
The Lady Panthers move on to play Williamsville (15-11), who dethroned 26-4 Tri-City by a 3-2 final score at the Tri-City Regional on Saturday. While Coach Bitter is familiar with the Lady Bullets now, on Saturday her thoughts were on the regional.
"I haven't even looked yet," Coach Bitter said on the setional match-up. "I was just so focused on here because there were so many good teams in this regional. I think Gillespie, us, Southwestern and Carlinville had a good chance of winning and luckily we were able to make plays and do that."
The Litchfield/Williamsville game will take place at 4:30 p.m. at Litchfield High School on Tuesday, May 27. The winner will play either Dupo, the winner of the Hillsboro Regional, or Pleasant Plains, the Athens Regional champion, at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 31.
May 24 at Gillespie
Class 2A Softball Regional Final
S'western (15-14) 000 001 0 - 1 5 1
Litchfield (22-5) 000 311 x - 5 7 1
Southwestern IP R ER H K BB
L-Stahl 7 5 4 7 1 1
Litchfield IP R ER H K BB
W-Beckham 6 1 1 5 6 3
Multiple Hits: Southwestern - Meghan Peuterbaugh (2-3); Litchfield - Riley Scharf (2-3, 1R, 1RBI), Peyton Matthews (2-3, 1R). 2B: Litchfield - Scharf 2. 3B: Litchfield - Matthews 1. SB: Litchfield - Tessa Steffens 1, Tessa Beckham 1, Kendall Davee 1.