The Van Buren varsity softball team improved to 15-11 with a 4-3 victory at Highland Wednesday night, setting up a Class 2A region 8 semifinal match up with Pekin Friday night at Keosauqua.
After falling behind 3-0 to the home team who scored a run in the second and two more in the fourth, Warriors’ junior Lexi Jirak put her recent slump behind her and saved Van Buren’s day with a lead-changing grand slam that gave the road team a one-run advantage.
“I have been struggling the last five games,” admitted Lexi. “So, last night I spent a lot of time on my hitting and did soft toss over and over.”
As for the at-bat itself, “I just went up to the plate with confidence,” said Jirak. “That felt good because I thought that I was back in my groove. I didn’t feel any pressure because the bases were loaded, because we only had one out and there was a great batter behind me. Chelsea [Huff)] is probably our best batter, so I had confidence with her hitting behind me that if it didn’t go well, she would produce.”
How did it feel to break out of her recent struggles with a 3-4 performance and the game-winning hit?
“I have to admit, it felt pretty great. I’m not sure what the pitch was because her pitches were doing weird things,” said Jirak. “I know it was the second pitch of the at-bat.
Next up for the Warriors is a home rematch with their rivals from Packwood.
“I hit a home run in the first game of the year against Pekin. This was just my second one,” said Jirak who will try to hit her third on Friday in front of her home crowd.
Jirak was 3-for-4 with a stolen base and a run scored to go with her four RBI. Classmate Salena Sayre was the other Warrior to reach base multiple times, going 2-for-3 with a pair of singles. Senior Shayna Sprinkle and sophomores Ella Jirak and Isabel Manning were the only other two to reach base with Manning drawing a walk and scoring and Ella smacking a single before crossing home. Freshman Shea Scott was the fourth baserunner to score, doing so as a pinch-runner during Lexi’s grand slam.
“We knew that if we played good we would have a chance and if we played bad we were not going to win,” said head coach Randy Smith in a honest response about his teams’ odds. “Our records are very similar. We knew their picture was not going to give us any walks, and we knew we could not give up any walks, ourselves. It would just come down to who got the hits at the right time. They had an error, but we had a passed ball that led to a run. It was a well played game, and they are a good team. They led off with the triple there in the sixth inning, but we throw her out at home. We got another out at home with a good throw, [so] it was close. I couldn’t tell if she was safe or not, [but] we got the call anyway.
After defeating Danville 3-0 at home on Monday, the Panthers advanced to the Class 2A-region 8 semifinals with a 6-3 victory at Wilton Wednesday night.
The road win improves Pekin’s record to 18-13 as the team will continue it’s current road-trip for the remainder of the playoffs with both West Branch and Wapello holding higher seeds at the top of the bracket.
After allowing a tally in the second, Pekin responded on offense with four decisive scores of their own before adding additional runs in the sixth and seventh innings before rebuking a two-run rally by the home team in the seventh.
Once again, Pekin will travel to Van Buren on Friday for the Class 2A-region 8 semifinals with the winner advancing to face either West Branch or Wapello on Monday. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Comets were eliminated in the opening round of the Class 2A region 8 bracket by Wapello 8-1 Wednesday evening.
Cardinal took an early 1-0 lead with a score in the top of the first credited to junior Maddie Cloke who hit a RBI single that scored freshman Caitlyn Reber. Unfortunately, Wapello rallied for the two go-ahead runs in the second and four insurance policies in the third before adding two more tallies for good measure in the bottom of the fifth.
Reber was 3-for-4 with the teams’ lone extra-base hit and run scored. Sophomore Alexia McClure was 1-for-4 and junior Maddie Cloke was 2-for-4, making up the Comets’ six hits. Junior Lydia Moses and eighth-grader Kinsey Hissem also reached base safely by drawing walks for Cardinal who ends the season with a 13-14 record.