It’s been 16 years since the Pekin softball team won an IHSA regional championship. It may be that long since the Lady Dragons won a regional game.
Scratch one downer off the list. No. 7 seed Pekin stunned No. 3 seed Bradley-Bourbonnais 7-1 Wednesday in a Class 4A regional semifinal game at the Lady Dragons’ new on-campus field and will face No. 1 seed Normal West (25-7) for the regional title at 10 a.m. Saturday.
It was arguably the best game Pekin (15-18) played all season, considering what was at stake and how well the Lady Dragons did at the plate and in the field against the favored Boilermakers (22-10).
Pekin pounded out 13 hits, 12 of them singles, and made only error on the summer-like afternoon.
“We had it all together,” said seventh-year Pekin coach Gigi MacIntosh.
“It was our worst game of the year, and it came at a bad time,” said Bradley-Bourbonnais coach Dave Lamie. “We’ve battled powerhouse teams all season with a young team. We have only two seniors. This game doesn’t define us.”
Down 1-0 to Bradley-Bourbonnais in the top of the fifth inning, the Lady Dragons sent 13 batters to the plate and scored seven runs, six with two out. All eight of their hits in the inning were singles.
Several ground balls found their way through the infield and Pekin was smart on the base paths, forcing Bradley-Bourbonnais into uncharacteristic mental mistakes.
Lexi Mercer and Sam Mayberry each had two hits in the inning for the Lady Dragons. Abby Potts’ RBI single tied the game and Brittney Spiesz’s two-out, two-run single put Pekin ahead for good 3-1.
Potts scored when Spiesz drew a throw to second base after the ball came in from the outfield.
After a walk to Taylor DeGolyer, Pekin picked up insurance runs on RBI singles by Bailey Tibbetts, Mercer and Mayberry.
“We had some bad luck in that inning,” Lamie said, referring to the seeing-eye ground ball hits.
“That’s happened to us,” she said.
Spiesz had the eventual game-winning hit and she was the winning pitcher. She threw a seven-hitter, struck out four and walked two.
After wiggling out of a first-inning jam by giving up just one run after Bradley-Bourbonnais loaded the bases with one out, Spiesz allowed only three Boilermakers to get into scoring position.
She fanned cleanup hitter Miranda Wehrle (.379, eight homers, 32 RBI) with a runner on third and two out in the sixth inning.
Bradley-Bourbonnais batters were constantly in front of Spiesz’s pitches, sending several balls foul down the leftfield line.
“Brittney’s pitches are deceiving,” MacIntosh said. “They were anxious trying to hit her.”
Losing pitcher Sydney Bright (10-5) came into the game with 105 strikeouts and she fanned six of Pekin’s first nine batters. She didn’t strike out anyone else before she left the mound with two out in the fifth inning and four runs across the plate.
Erin Flairty, Potts, Spiesz, Mercer and Mayberry all had two hits for the Lady Dragons.
“You can do a lot of damage with a bat in your hands,” MacInosh said.
Pekin’s lone error was by Potts, the Lady Dragons’ shortstop, on a high throw to first base in the fifth inning.
Potts made up for the miscue the entire game, especially when she leaped to snare a line drive off the bat of Camryn Bedell in the seventh inning and turned it into a double play on a throw to first baseman Kristen Hunt.
Pekin finished 2-12 in the Mid-Illini Conference and in last place. Bradley-Bourbonnais went 9-5 in the Southwest Suburban Conference.
Did Wednesday’s game — even though it was just one game — speak volumes about the competition in the Mid-Illini?
“Playing in the Mid-Illini is brutal,” MacIntosh said. “We have a love-hate relationship with the rest of the conference. We have tremendous respect for all the players and coaches. You’re playing a state-level team twice a week during the conference season.”