“I’m always telling them ‘you are never out of it, keep battling’ and that is what they did tonight.”
Those were the remarks of a smiling Perry head coach Tina Kenney after her Jayettes pulled out a wild 4-3 win over visiting Waverly-Shell Rock in their Class 4A Region 3 Semifinal Saturday.
The Go-Hawks (23-18) were the home team on the scoreboard and used their first two hits of the game, along with an outfield error, to score once in the bottom of the sixth and take a 1-0 lead, imperiling Perry’s season.
W-SR pitcher Hanna Fanter recorded two quick ground outs, leaving Perry suddenly down to a final out in their season.
Sophomore Adriana Eastman delivered for No. 10 Perry (26-10) in dramatic fashion, lancing a sinking, twisting line drive down the line in right field. Veronica Perez made a lunging stab but missed, as the ball dipped just out of her range.
Eastman tore around first base as the ball rolled to the fence. She sped around second, and with the Go-Hawks slow to get the ball back into the infield, Kenney gambled, sending Eastman home. The cut-off throw was errant, and Eastman scored without a play, sending the Perry bench Jayette-supporting portion of a large crowd into delirium at the sudden deliverance.
“I was talking to ‘Dree’ (Adriana) right before her at-bat and was telling her I was really proud of you and have got so much confidence in you so step in there and do something and look what happened,” Kenney said. “You just never know who is going to step up for you and she did, big, right there.”
Kenney said seeing the ball skip hard and roll to the fence made her consider sending Eastman all the way. Eastman was already rounding second by the time the Go-Hawks retrieved the ball, leading Kenney to take the gamble.
“She was really coming hard and I could see she was anxious and we just needed a big play so I sent her,” the coach said. “I am just so proud of her and our entire team for sticking together and never giving up and battling all the way.”
The dramatics were far from over as Carlie Robbins missed winning the game with a walk-off solo home run by flying out to Grace Stewart in left field two steps in front of the fence for the second out of the seventh inning. Britney Young singled and stole second base to put the game-winning run in scoring position, but first baseman Eastman made a running snag of a foul pop to end the frame and force extra innings.
Jo Diw was hit by a pitch with one out, stole second and moved to third on a Sid Vancil sacrifice bunt. Alyssa Kruger drew a walk on four pitches, with Rachel Kinney dropping a single off an 0-1 change-up just in front of a diving Kelsey Young in center field.
Kruger moved to third, with Emma Olejniczak dropping a two-run base hit into no-man’s land behind shortstop as the Perry lead swelled to 4-1.
Those extra runs were needed, as Erin Hinders drew a one-out walk and scored when Fanter launched a two-run home run deep to left-center to pull the guests to within 4-3. A fly out to Kinney in right field ended the game.
Fanter was far from the hardest-throwing opposing pitcher Perry had seen this season but proved quite adept at changing speeds and location, clearing frustrating the Jayette batters, who through five innings had produced only an Olejniczak single and a walk to Vancil in the fourth.
That proved a wasted opportunity, as Kruger was out on a sacrifice bunt that was fielded by a charging Jaylie Reints from third base. Reints was then able to retreat just in time to tag out Vancil, who was trying to speed all the way to third on the play. An error with Kinney batting would likely have scored the run, but Fanter induced a ground out to escape damage.
Vancil singled with two down and stole second in the sixth, but was left stranded as a frustrated Jayette offense struggled to bring home a run.
At that point one run looked huge, as Olejniczak was dominating the W-SR lineup. She retired the first 14 batters she faced before an error allowed Britney Young to reach with two outs in the fifth, but she was stranded when Olejniczak threw the 10th of her 14 strikeouts.
Reints, who entered the game with 11 home runs, had nearly changed the game to open the fifth, hitting a towering fly ball to nearly dead-center. Kruger coolly retreated to the fence, feeling for the barrier with her right hand and settling under the ball for the catch, made one foot inside the park.
W-SR finally broke through in the sixth, with Kelsey Young slapping a bunt single after two strikeouts had been recorded. Fanter then laced a sinking rocket to left field which Stewart could not corral, allowing the speedy Young — who was running on the play — to score easily. A ground out ended the rally and set the stage for the dramatics of the final two stanzas.
Eastman started the season vying for playing time, but has since earned a spot in the starting lineup. She moved to first base when changes were made to the roster slightly more than one week ago.
“She has really matured so much from last year and then just in this year, too,” Kenney said. “She works hard and really has her head on her shoulders and does what is asked of her and she goes out and owns it. I am really proud of her.”
Seniors Vancil, Kinney and Olejniczak also played huge roles in the win, as did the defense, which made several strong plays at key moments.
“They just kept battling, fighting to win every situation, which is what we always talk about,” Kenney said. “This was a whole-team win and they should be proud of how they stuck together and pulled it out.”
Olejniczak kept Perry in the game throughout, fanning 13 and issuing just one walk. She allowed three runs on four hits and had two hits, including the game-winning two-RBI base knock in the eighth.
Vancil had a single, a walk, a stolen base and a critical sacrifice, with Kinney adding her RBI-single while Brooke Huntington had a hit and Eastman the triple on which she scored on the throwing error.
Fanter yielded four runs (three earned) on six hits in taking the loss. She walked two batters, hit one and finished with five strikeouts. The sophomore did her best to win the game for herself, with a single that led the first W-SR run scoring and then hitting the two-run dinger in the eighth, her fifth of the season.
Perry will travel to No. 9 Carlisle (25-14) Tuesday for the Region 3 Final at 7 p.m. Both teams will be looking for a return trip to the state tournament, as the Wildcats were the runner-up last season while the Jayettes finished sixth.