Lady Panthers settle for second, Beecher wins softball state championship

By Doug Daniels

1351sports.com / elveradosports.com

June 1, 2019

  (East Peoria, Ill.) - Taking the field roughly 14 hours after their semifinal victory over Olympia, the Lady Panthers ran out of magic in the IHSA Class 2A state championship game on Saturday, falling 8-0 to Beecher and tallying just a pair of hits on offense.

  While it wasn’t the trophy they wanted, the second place showing for PCHS matched the best finish for any Pinckneyville softball team in the program’s history. Not too shabby for a squad that started the season 5-6 and was written off by many as a serious contender as a result.

  “I can’t speak enough of the character of these kids, above any softball ability,” said Lady Panthers head coach Alan Engelhardt. “That’s the reason we’re here, honestly. On April 1, we had some gut checking going on. By May 1, we thought we were becoming a pretty good team. So by June 1, we’re maybe ahead of where we thought we could be.”

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  Kiya Hagene got things off to a good start for PCHS with a leadoff single before stealing second base to get into scoring position, but two strikeouts and a groundout followed, stranding her there and giving Beecher the chance to strike first in the bottom of the inning.

  The Ladycats did so with some help from the umpiring crew, which tagged Pinckneyville’s pitcher Taylor Witges for an illegal pitch just moments into the bottom of the first frame. Witges would go on to walk the first two batters, which eventually led to the game’s first run on an error.

  “That’s the first illegal pitch we’ve had all year, as far as what they called there,” Engelhardt said. “It definitely threw her off.”

  Witges continued to struggle in the second inning, allowing a walk and a pair of extra base hits before being pulled in favor of Hallie Waggoner. When the smoke cleared after the bottom of the second inning, Beecher had built a 4-0 lead.

  “That’s the first time (Witges has) thrown back-to-back probably all year,” Engelhardt said. “It may have affected her a little bit. We’ve had the luxury of being able to alternate her and Hallie. We thought our best chance to win was the throw (Witges) out there again today. I don’t want to blame (the quick turnaround), we definitely struggled with (Beecher’s Kayla Hon) in the circle. She’s a really nice pitcher. They put two or three really good swings on and made us pay with runners on base.”

  Those four runs were more than enough for Hon to work with, as she held Pinckneyville to only two hits on the day while striking out 10. Her offense added some more insurance in the fourth, tacking on four runs on five hits and a walk to go up 8-0. Waggoner and the PCHS defense would keep the Ladycats off the board for the rest of the game.

  “In the middle of the game we kind of hung our heads for the first time in a long time, kind of let it get away a little bit,” Engelhardt said. “Then at the end our kids finally showed that pride that makes up this team, made some really nice defensive plays to kind of keep them at bay and keep it an 8-0 game, not turn into a ten-run rule.”

  Pinckneyville’s only hit besides Hagene’s single in the first was a one-out double by Kenzie Prest in the sixth.

  The Lady Panthers weren’t the favorite to make it out of the south this year after graduating the bulk of their 2017 and 2018 state teams and getting off to a slow start this spring, but showed continued improvement throughout the course of the season and were playing their best softball at the right time.

  “Coming into the year there were all sorts of question marks with this group,” said Engelhardt. “Number one we had to find an identity to begin with because last year we were kind of like an American League baseball team - one base at a time, try to hit a home run. We found a different offensive identity where it was slap bunt, run, do some of those things.”

  “From a pitching standpoint, we graduated all of our innings except seven, maybe nine from last year. For both Taylor and Hallie to do the job that they did all year long for us, and defensively, we didn’t strike a whole bunch of kids out all year and I thought our defense played really well all year. We had a couple miscues today, but we also had some exceptional defense.”

  PCHS will be in a similar situation pitching-wise next year, as all but 18 of their innings will be gone with Witges and Waggoner graduating. Engelhardt credits them and fellow seniors Hagene and Lynlee Lindner with setting a fine example for the underclassmen to learn from.

  “The leadership from (our seniors), it tells the tale, they’re the last four gone every day,” Engelhardt said. “That’s what you want. They’re willing to carry equipment and set stuff up and do all of those things. A lot of times with seniors you have to say hey, it’s still your job to do this. I never had to tell them that’s your job, they knew this is what’s expected of us and this is what we’re going to do. They set the example for those younger kids all year long. That’s how you build a program and not just have a good team here and a good team there, is your older kids understand the expectations and show the younger kids what’s expected of them.”

  Pinckneyville finishes with an overall record of 25 wins and 9 losses. Engelhardt’s career record currently sits at 161-52 in his six years as head coach of the Lady Panthers softball team.

Photos by Doug Daniels / PinckneyvilleSports.com

• More photos will be published later in a massive State Finals photo gallery!

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