BELLEVILLE – Darlington pitcher Laura Steiner struck out 10 batters in Thursday’s playoff game, but it was the last one that mattered the most.
Clinging to a one-run lead with the go-ahead run at the plate, Steiner dug deep and coaxed three final strikes from her strong right arm to notch the final out and guide the #5-seeded Lady Redbirds to a stunning 13-12 victory over the #4-seeded Belleville Wildcats in a WIAA Division 3 regional quarterfinal softball game on May 24.
“Having the playoff win over Belleville was a win Darlington’s program really needed. Everyone did her part to make it happen. We were strong through our entire lineup, and Laura and our defense did a nice job,” said Darlington head coach Destiny Glasson, who led her Redbirds to just the second playoff victory in program history.
Darlington had not won a playoff game since 2002 and they had not scored a run in a playoff game since 2004, but all that changed on Thursday afternoon as the ‘Birds ended both those dubious streaks in a big way.
The Redbirds (2-19 overall) jumped out of the gates early, plating eight runs in the top of the first inning thanks to a pair of three-run home runs by Cassidy Cox and Brianna King and a two-run single by Jacke Johnson. Johnson had two hits in the first inning alone, while Hailey Heins scored twice for the ‘Birds.
Dishearteningly, the Wildcats (7-12) showed some offensive firepower of their own, answering back with five runs in the second inning and four more in the third to grab a 9-8 lead.
Undaunted, the ‘Birds struck right back with three runs in the top of the fourth to regain the lead at 11-9. Anna Fitzsimons, Taylor Cox and King all ripped RBI-doubles during the rally.
Fitzsimons drilled another RBI-double in the sixth and scored on a ground out by T. Cox to extend the Redbirds’ advantage to 13-10.
“I feel we finally proved to ourselves how well we can really play. When they came back and scored, we put the bat on the ball and scored back. There are still definitely things we need to work on, but I am proud of the girls,” stated Glasson.
Darlington got the first two outs of the seventh on fly balls in the infield, but things just couldn’t be easy for the ‘Birds.
An error opened the door for the Wildcats’ comeback, and Darien Woods followed with a RBI-triple and scored on a wild pitch to bring the hosts within a run at 13-12.
Another Redbird error put the tying run on base, but Steiner buckled down and struck out the next batter to seal Darlington’s first playoff win in 10 years.
“I was finally beginning to relax a bit (after getting the first two outs of the seventh inning), but at the same time I think the girls’ nerves were getting the best of them,” Glasson admitted. “I was getting a bit nervous. Nothing like making the seventh inning more exciting and nerve-racking.”
Steiner earned the complete-game win, allowing 12 runs on 16 hits and four walks with 10 Ks.
C. Cox finished 2-for-3 with three runs and three RBI, while King was 3-for-4 with a run and four RBI.
T. Cox went 3-for-4 with three doubles, two runs and two RBI. Fitzsimons and Johnson each went 2-for-4 with two RBI for the ‘Birds.
Cassidy Rung (4-for-5) and Woods (3-for-4) led the Wildcats at the plate.
Darlington advanced on to face top-seeded Brodhead on Tuesday, May 29. The game got over too late to appear in this edition.
WIAA D3 REGIONAL QUARTERFINAL
Darlington… 800 302 0 - 13 12 3
Belleville….. 054 010 2 - 12 16 2
Leading Hitters: Taylor Cox 3x4, Brianna King 3x4, Cassidy Cox 2x3, Jacke Johnson 2x4, Anna Fitzsimons 2x4. HR- C. Cox, King. 2B- Fitzsimons (2), C. Cox, T. Cox (3).
WP- Laura Steiner. LP- Roberts.
At Belleville, on Thursday, May 24