State softball: Missiles bats come alive to claim third in Class 1A
EAST PEORIA – These are the Milledgeville Missiles their fans have come to expect, and the style of play that got them to the Class 1A state tournament.
After seeming nervous and tight in Friday's state semifinal, the Missiles had none of that in Saturday morning's third-place game. Gone were the nerves, butterflies and tension, and in their place was the Milledgeville of old.
The Missiles pounded 14 hits and hit the ball hard up and down the lineup for seven innings, beating Tuscola 4-1 at EastSide Centre.
"We knew as soon as we started hitting the ball, we'd win the game," senior shortstop Brandie Gelwicks said. "Nerves weren't part of it at all today, and you could really see the difference; we were confident we could play better than we did [Friday], and played our game and ended the season with a win."
Gelwicks, Emily Bush, Courtney Swalve and Morgan Adolph had three hits each, and each had at least one extra-base hit. Bush doubled twice, Gelwicks and Swalve added doubles and Adolph highlighted the victory with a solo home run.
"We were definitely more relaxed, especially at the plate," Bush said. "We didn't know their pitcher very well, and I think we hit better when that happens. We don't worry about anything else, we just swing the bats and hit the ball where it's pitched. Everyone did that well and hit the ball hard today."
Bush hit the first pitch of the game for a ringing double to right-center field, then Gelwicks drove her in with a bloop single into short right field. After Tuscola (26-8) tied the game at 1-1 with an unearned run on Sam Ledbetter's RBI single in the bottom of the first, Adolph got the momentum right back with a towering homer just to the left of straightaway center field.
"Brad [Grenoble, the first-base coach] was screaming, and I didn't know it went out at first," Adolph said of what turned out to be the winning RBI. "But it felt good off the bat, and when I saw it land over the fence, I was really excited. I mean, I just hit a home run at the state tournament … that's unbelievable."
After the Missiles (26-9) stranded a pair of runners in each of the first three innings, they finally gave themselves some breathing room in the fourth. Jestine Imel led off with a bunt single, then Gelwicks ripped a two-out RBI double to right-center before scoring on Swalve's single up the middle three pitches later.
"I had some nervous feelings that we didn't score more runs early in the game," Swalve said, "but we were hitting the ball hard. We started things off right away in the first and it just kept coming from there; I knew we'd keep it going until we could break it open a little bit. We weren't going to be stopped today."
The offense was more than enough for Bush and the defense behind her. Despite a pair of errors, the Missiles were in complete control after Adolph's homer. Bush (16-1) gave up three hits, a walk and hit a batter while striking out four, and allowed only three baserunners after the second inning.
The last of those came in the seventh, when Bush walked the leadoff hitter. But Milledgeville snuffed out any would-be rally, as Adolph snagged a line drive two pitches later and doubled off the runner at first. Bush got the final hitter to fly out to Brooke Kappes in left, and the celebration was on.
"I'm really happy with the defense I've had behind me this year," Bush said. "It's nice as a pitcher to know you've got that support, and then when we hit the ball like we did today … I can't ask for anything more."
The victory washed away some of the bad taste of the Missiles' 1-0 semifinal loss to Goreville on Friday, and set the stage for 2013. The players barely had their hands on the third-place trophy before their thoughts turned to a possible repeat trip to East Peoria next year.
"We came in with a lot of confidence; only two 1A teams can end the season with a win, and we wanted to make sure we were one of them," Adolph said. "It's a great feeling to play such a good game down here and send the seniors out on top."
"[The semifinal] loss was bittersweet; we're at state, but we didn't get the chance to play for the championship," Bush added. "But we redeemed ourselves today … and we only lose five seniors. We're going to miss them, but we have a lot of starters back and have a really good chance to be back here next year."
Star of the game: Emily Bush, Milledgeville, 3-hitter, 5 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HBP; 3 hits, 2 2Bs, run scored
Key performers: Brandie Gelwicks, Milledgeville, 3 hits, 2B, 2 RBIs, run; Morgan Adolph, Milledgeville, 3 hits, solo HR; Courtney Swalve, Milledgeville, 3 hits, 2B, RBI; Sam Ledbetter, Tuscola, RBI single