LANARK – Everything stopped except the runners on base, as Kaitlyn Liebing popped a high fly ball to left field in the fifth inning Saturday.
The Amboy junior put her head down to run. The bases – which were packed with Clippers – started to empty, as there were two outs.
The ball floated toward Newman's Rachel Grennan in left field. She moved to her left, the ball hit the heel of her glove, rolled forward and dropped into the grass in front of her.
Three runners scored, the Clippers took the lead, and a couple short innings later clinched the 1A Eastland Regional title with a 3-2 win over the Newman Comets. It is the fourth regional title in a row for Amboy (19-9).
The Clippers advance to the 1A Pearl City Sectional, where they will meet Hiawatha in the semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"When the girls in front of me got on base, and they were loaded, I knew I had to come through then," Liebing said. "That was our chance. We hadn't seen this girl before, and we weren't hitting her as well. We just needed to score there."
Newman (14-12) freshman Sam Miller had stymied the Amboy bats leading into fifth inning.
To that point, she had allowed one hit – a ground-rule double by Delaney Wilhelm – while striking out six.
"Our thought was that they hadn't seen her the first two games," Newman coach J.D. Waldschmidt said. "They saw Lakyn [Waldschmidt]. In the first game, she had blown it past them for most of the game. They caught up to her the second game. We thought Sam would give them a different look."
The fifth started with a strikeout of Courtney Rhine. After that, Hannah McCoy coaxed Amboy's lone walk of the game.
Wilhelm then bunted in front of the plate, and the speedy freshman was already near the bag by the time Miller picked up the ball.
Leadoff hitter Kelsie Thurman followed with another bunt back toward Miller, who fielded the ball and turned to throw to third. There was no play, and by the time she turned to first, it was too late to get Thurman.
"We didn't make a couple throws on bunts, and we dropped a fly ball," Waldschmidt said. "They were mistakes, but I am really happy with the way we played. From the moment we got on the bus this morning, we were focused. Mistakes happen, but we can learn from this. The future is bright for this program."
Miller bore down to strike out Madeline Ely,
That brought Liebing up to the plate. The junior catcher had battled for 12 pitches the previous inning before grounding to short.
"I was trying to be more patient and trying to stay alive up there," Liebing said. "She was throwing really well, but we knew that we couldn't give up."
"We usually go to the small-ball earlier than we did today," Amboy coach Kelly Whitman said. "Usually, we get the first person on and then start bunting. We just weren't getting on base."
Liebing was thrown out at the plate later in the inning.
Newman didn't go away quietly.
Mady Ferris drilled the first pitch of the sixth inning, but it was snagged out of the air by third baseman Destinee Oenes.
Julie Hurd followed with deep drive to center that dropped about a foot in front of the fence. She ended up at second. Jenna Stevens reached on an error, but Hurd could not move up.
Mary Alice Oswalt followed with a bloop single to right. Wilhelm fielded the ball and threw home, as Hurd broke for the plate.
The throw was on line, and Hurd was caught in a rundown. Liebing threw to Oenes at third, who ran Hurd toward the plate before throwing.
Liebing blocked the plate and tagged out Hurd, who slid in head-first.
"Julie is the second fastest girl on the team, and I thought she would make it," Waldschmidt said. "That was a great throw by the outfielder. I think the biggest play might have been by the third baseman on that line drive by Mady. If Mady gets on there, who knows what would have happened."
Newman scored two runs off of freshman Karlee Doege in the fourth inning. Stevens had an RBI double, and then scored on a single by Lakyn Waldschmidt.
Doege finished with 10 strikeouts and one walk.
"She's just a freshman, but she's done great for us all year," Liebing said. "I think she was a little nervous early in the game, but she settled down after they scored."
Miller allowed only four hits, while striking out nine and walking one.
Star of the game: Karlee Doege, Amboy, 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 10 SO, 1 BB
Key performers: Sam Miller, Newman, 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 9 SO, 1 BB; Jenna Stevens, Newman, 2B, RBI
Up next: 1A Pearl City Regional, Amboy vs. Hiawatha, 4:30 p.m. today