Bats carry Pinckneyville past Olympia, into state championship game

By Doug Daniels

1351sports.com / elveradosports.com

May 31, 2019

  (East Peoria, Ill.) - In four games at the IHSA Softball State Finals in 2017 and 2018, Pinckneyville managed a grand total of 8 runs and zero victories. This time around, with almost an entirely different lineup, the Lady Panthers jumped all over Stanford (Olympia) 11-3 on Friday to earn a spot in Saturday’s Class 2A championship game with a chance to make history as the first PCHS softball team to go all the way.

  “This group’s loose,” said Pinckneyville head coach Alan Engelhardt. “The last two years they had the expectation of we’re going to be here, then they got here and it’s like, we need to do something. This group kind of was written off when we were 5-6. They’re dancing this morning, they’re doing some stuff that last year’s group wouldn’t have dreamt of doing probably. I think that’s one of the biggest things, just relaxing and playing ball to your potential.”

  PCHS didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard, moving ahead 2-0 in the top of the first inning after a single by Taylor Kurtz, an RBI double by Taylor Witges, and a sacrifice fly by Megan Engelhardt.

  “It’s a little bit of small ball,” said Engelhardt. “Kurtz starts off with the perfect slap, then Taylor drives her in, then you can kind of relax and play. It’s nice to calm down a little bit. We have struggled offensively up here, so to come out early was big.”

  The lead lasted until the bottom of the third when some bad luck led to two runs for Olympia. A catcher’s interference call - which Engelhardt disagreed with - put the leadoff batter Colby Burt on base. She later scored on a fly ball to right field by Alexis Finchum which was borderline fair-foul, as did Chloe Scroggins who had reached on a base hit.

  “I knew we had to get out of that inning with as few runs allowed as possible,” Witges said. “We knew we just had to hit, we treated it like it was a 0-0 game and started from the beginning again.”

  Aubrey Bruns, who when she isn’t in the field or at the plate is probably the team’s top cheerleader in the dugout, said “I told them in the dugout, we’ve got to stay up, because the game is never over until that last pitch, and we did. I think it really transferred over into the field and into the dugout when we were able to come back.”

  Olympia took the lead in the bottom of the fourth, however, getting two hits and a sac fly (Burt) to slip ahead 3-2. From that point on, Witges shut the door in the pitching circle, finishing with two earned runs allowed on eight hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

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  Witges has been a key component to Pinckneyville’s run through the postseason, and credits her pitch movement with transforming her into one of the best hurlers in the state.

  “I don’t throw that fast, so I don’t try to push the ball past people,” Witges said. “I know that I have to put movement on my ball to get people out.”

  The top of the fifth inning was where the Lady Panthers retook the lead for good with a tremendous two-out rally. Kurtz (double) and Witges (double) both drove in runs, and with the bases loaded, Bruns cleared them all with PCHS’s third double of the inning on the first pitch she saw before scoring on a single by Hallie Waggoner to make it 8-3.

  “I’m not a person that stays late in the count, I like to get my job done and get back in the dugout and help my team,” Bruns said. “I love to be in the dugout and support them. Just being able to pull through for my team is an honor.”

  Kiya Hagene, who usually bats left-handed in the leadoff spot, added a solo homer batting right-handed to start the sixth. Then in the seventh, Lynlee Lindner, Kenzie Prest, Kurtz and Witges all had hits to tack on two more runs.

  “It’s quality at-bats,” Engelhardt said. “All nine spots got on base, the six hole comes up with the three-run double, Witges in the three spot had two or three key hits. Kurtz in the two spot, the freshman, coming up with multiple key hits. Kiya turns around right-handed and hits a home run. Whenever you have multiple kids doing the job for you then the rest of them can relax and say ok, I don’t have to take the big swing here because my teammates will pick me up.”

  Hagene (1-5, R, RBI, HR), Kurtz (4-5, 2 R, RBI, 2B), Witges (3-5, 2 R, 3 RBI, 2B), Bruns (1-4, R, 3 RBI, 2B), Waggoner (1-4, RBI), Lindner (1-3, R, BB), and Prest (2-4, 2 R) all had hits for Pinckneyville. Lauren Jackson (0-4, BB) and Megan Engelhardt (0-2, R, RBI, SAC, BB, HBP) also reached base safely for PCHS.

  The Lady Panthers (25-8) will meet last year’s state runner-up and 2017 state champion Beecher (37-2) in Saturday’s championship game, which has been moved up to an 11 a.m. start time with the threat of rain later in the afternoon.

  “Coach Opp and Coach Weiland put together a good scout for us today, so we’ll go back to the hotel and get ready for an exceptional pitcher and an exceptional defense,” said Engelhardt. “They swung the bat really well today. We’ll try to, number one, get Taylor (Witges) kind of recovered. Number two, get our kids to bed. I know there’s going to be a little bit of a high where they’re going to want to jump around a little bit, but we’re going to eat and try to get the to bed and relax for tomorrow.”

Photos by Doug Daniels / PinckneyvilleSports.com

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