BELMONT — Briana Ernst had a little work to do before heading to Belmont's graduation ceremony to receive her diploma on Friday night.
Belmont's lone senior came up with a clutch two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning to put her team ahead 3-0, and the top-seeded Lady Braves held on to capture their second consecutive WIAA Division 5 regional championship title by holding off a late rally to take down #5-seeded Black Hawk, 3-1, at Belmont's Bond Park on Friday, May 25.
"We scrapped and moved the ball around enough today to get the win. Holy cow, Black Hawk has a lot of athletes. Hats off to them for what they have done this season. We're excited to be moving on," said Belmont head coach Jeff Hodgson, who led the Braves to runner-up finish in the inaugural D5 season a year ago.
The Braves (21-5 overall) broke a scoreless stalemate by pushing across a two-out run in the bottom of the third inning to go ahead 1-0. Junior shortstop Nikki Knebel came through with a RBI-single to drive in courtesy runner Payton Johnson, who was running pitcher Sadie Willborn who had doubled to open the rally.
Ernst gave the Braves a little more cushion in the fifth when she lined a single to center to drive in Johnson and catcher Abby Althaus for a 3-0 Belmont lead.
"It came down to having the right kids up when we needed them. If you ask me who we want up in those situations and I'll tell you Sadie. Bri or Nikki, and that's who we got up there. We're really proud of them for coming through today," Hodgson pointed out.
Ernst's hit proved to be even more key in the top of the sixth when the Warriors (12-7) finally broke through for a run against Willborn. After reaching base on a error, Black Hawk pitcher Hannah Butler scored on a Mia Jackson fielder's choice to make it 3-1.
Black Hawk made things really interesting in the top of the seventh by putting the tying runners in scoring position with just one down and the heart of their order coming up. Willborn coaxed freshman Bailey Butler to fly out to Ernst at second base, and then struck out H. Butler for the final out to preserve the victory- the fourth for the Braves over the Warriors in the past two seasons.
"We just didn't hit the ball well like we did against Potosi. (Willborn's) a good pitcher, but we need to put the ball in play and make them do something with it. Watching third strikes go by doesn't do that," remarked Black Hawk head coach Curt Leuzinger.
Willborn (21-4) out-dueled the Butler sisters in the pitcher's circle to notch the complete-game win. She surrendered one unearned run on three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over seven innings. H. Butler (9-5) started the game and took the loss after yielding three runs on six hits with six Ks and a walk over four and a third innings. B. Butler gave up two hits and did not allow a run in a inning and two-thirds of work.
Willborn also finished 2-for-4 at the play with a double, while Knebel went 2-for-3 with a RBI. Johnson scored twice for the Braves.
Lauren Schultz accounted for two of the Warriors' three hits in the game with a pair of singles.
Belmont advanced to Friday's regional final by blasting #8-seeded River Ridge/Cassville, 11-1, in a Division 5 regional semifinal game at Bond Park on Wednesday, May 23.
The Braves banged out 12 hits, including six doubles, en route to the 10-run rule win over the Timberwolves (), who grabbed an early 1-0 lead with an unearned run in the top of the first inning.
The hosts grabbed hold of the lead on a two-run single by Knebel in the bottom of the first inning. Knebel added a RBI-double in the third to put the Braves ahead 4-0, while Althaus ripped a two-run double in the fourth and a two-run single in the fifth to help finish off the 'Wolves.
Althaus finished with four RBI on the day, while Knebel drove in three runs and scored twice in the rout. McKenzie Reuter went 2-for-3 with a double, two RBI and a run, and Callie Wiegel scored twice and drove in a run for the Braves.
WIAA DIVISION 5 REGIONAL FINAL
Black Hawk… 000 001 0 – 1 3 3
Belmont…….. 001 020 x – 3 8 3
Leading Hitters: BH– Lauren Schultz 2x2. BE– Sadie Willborn 2x4, Nikki Knebel 2x3. 2B– Willborn.
W- Sadie Willborn (7IP, 3H, 1R, 0ER, 7K, 2BB). L- Hannah Butler (4.33IP, 6H, 3R, 3ER, 6K, 1BB).
At Belmont, on Friday, May 25
WIAA DIVISION 5 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
RR/Cass…. 100 00 – 1 1 1
Belmont…. 202 25 – 11 12 1
Leading Hitters: RR/C– None. B– Abby Althaus 2x4, Sadie Willborn 2x3, Nikki Knebel 2x3, McKenzie Reuter 2x3. 2B– Althaus, Willborn (2), Knebel, Reuter, Lilly Ruiz.
W- Sadie Willborn (5IP, 1H, 1R, 0ER, 10K, 0BB). L- Vogt (4.33IP, 12H, 11R, 9ER, 1K, 1BB).
At Belmont, on Wednesday, May 23