Clark, Lady Panthers shut out Casey-Westfield to claim spot in State Finals

The Lady Panthers with their Super-Sectional trophy after defeating Casey-Westfield. (Doug Daniels Photo)

By Doug Daniels

1351sports.com / pinckneyvillesports.com

May 29, 2018

  (Johnston City, Ill.) - Mariah Clark pitched her way out of a bases-loaded, nobody out jam in the bottom of the seventh inning as Pinckneyville prevailed 3-0 over Casey-Westfield in Monday's Class 2A Softball Super-Sectional in Johnston City, sending the Lady Panthers back to East Peoria for the State Finals for the second straight season.
  The big hits came off the bats of Josie Gleason, who drove in the game's first run in the bottom of the fourth with an RBI single, and Kylee Kling, who also singled home a run in the fourth and added a solo homer in the sixth. Clark held the Warriors to just four hits and struck out eight, including the final two hitters she faced.
  "They are a really good hitting team," said PCHS head coach Alan Engelhardt. "It's hard to judge on a one-game sample, but 1-through-9 they can swing it. What (Clark) did to that lineup today was excellent. Kylee with a couple big swings for us, and that's the expectation for us. She's a talented kid and we expect her to come up in big spots, and she has two postseasons in a row."
  The game was scoreless through three innings when the umpire crew heard thunder and called the teams off the field for a 30-minute delay. When play resumed, it was Pinckneyville's offense making all the noise.
  Taylor Witges and Clark both singled to start the top of the fourth against Casey-Westfield hurler Claire Maulding, then Gleason and Kling followed with RBI base hits to make it four straight singles and a 2-0 lead for the Lady Panthers.
  "(Maulding) came out was aggressive on early and we got caught on our heels, taking some pitches that we really wanted to swing at," Engelhardt said. "You get to talk a little bit over the break there, we just talked about being aggressive, jump on it a little bit, and a couple balls found some holes. We hit some balls they made really nice plays on, sometimes you tip your cap."

  While Clark kept cruising along, Kling gave her a little more cushion to work with, belting a two-strike, two-out solo homer - the 50th long ball of the season for PCHS - in the top of the sixth to make it 3-0.
  "I got down with two strikes, and I said I'm not going to let her strike me out, I'm going to get a hit," Kling said. "I wasn't planning on hitting a home run, but I'll definitely take it."
  Clark hadn't allowed a runner past second base until the top of the seventh rolled around and things got a bit dicey. A pair of singles and a fielder's choice loaded the bases with no outs, but Pinckneyville would find a way to keep Casey-Westfield off the scoreboard, with Gleason catching a foul pop-up for the first out, and Clark fanning the last two batters to finish the job.
  "When the 3-4-5 hitters see you for the third time, they're ready to come after you," said Clark. "They got a blooper, and a hit. Staying locked in defensively really helped us get out of that inning."
  Witges (1-3, R), Clark (1-3), Gleason (1-3, RBI), Kling (2-3, R, 2 RBI, HR) and Megan Mayo (1-3) had hits for the Lady Panthers (33-4). They'll take on Taylor Ridge (Rockridge) in the 3:00 p.m. semifinal on Friday, with the winner meeting either Beecher or Williamsville for the championship on Sunday at 5:30.
  The victory gives Pinckneyville an opportunity not only to compete for a state championship, but to avenge last year's trip to East Peoria where they were pummeled by both of their opponents and returned home with fourth place.
  "This is what we've been looking forward to since the beginning of the season," Kling said. "We just need to keep calm this year, not freak out, and play our best."
  Engelhardt will be making his fourth trip to the State Finals as a coach, with two appearances in baseball and two in softball. He said the talk of a return trip to the State Finals for the majority of this group began almost immediately when the bus departed from East Peoria last spring.
  "On the way home from state last year, this is what they started talking about already," Engelhardt said. "It wasn't 'hey, we had a great year,' congratulating each other. It was A, disappointment that they didn't play the way they feel like they're capable of playing; and B, we have to get back there to show people what we're capable of doing. I can not say enough for this group on the focus that it took - and obviously there's talent that goes along with that focus - but that focus of 'this is what we need to do."
  Five starters from the team were state champions as eighth graders back in 2013 at Pinckneyville Junior High School, and there's nothing the group would like more than to put an exclamation point on their pre-collegiate careers with a championship at the high school level.
  "Last year we didn't know what we were getting into," Clark said. "This year we're a little more focused, and we're after the big trophy."

Highlights from the Super-Sectional on Monday. (Doug Daniels Video)

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