EAST PEORIA – On the state tournament stage, runs are usually at a premium, and mistakes have a way of biting you.
The Amboy Clippers found that out the hard way Friday afternoon, as four errors and a lone walk led to five Trico runs in a 6-1 loss in the Class 1A state semifinals at EastSide Centre.
"We let some runners on base, and didn't play the tight defense that you need to at the state tournament," Amboy coach Kelly Whitman said. "We came in nervous, and a couple of innings set a tough tone."
After cruising through the first two innings, Amboy freshman Karlee Doege got the first two outs in the top of the third. But an errant throw on a two-out bunt brought the top of the order back up, and Jessica Prange singled home Bailey Witthoft to break up the shutout and Doege's no-hitter in one fell swoop.
With Prange advancing to second on the throw home, she scored on an errant throw on Ashley Modglin's two-out bunt single. The speedy Modglin went to second on the play, took third on a passed ball, and scored one pitch later on a wild pitch to make it 3-0 Trico.
"It was just fundamentals today," Amboy senior center fielder Micaela McCoy said. "We didn't do the little things, and we let it get to us."
The turning point of the game truly came in the bottom of the fourth. Madeline Ely bunted and was safe when the Trico third baseman bobbled the barehand pickup, then scored one batter later when Kaitlyn Liebing smoked a line drive down the left-field line for an RBI double.
Liebing took third on the throw home, and the Clippers (22-10) had a run in, a runner on third, and nobody out.
But Jordan Lodge (24-2) wiggled off the hook. Doege lifted a fly ball to short left field, but it was too shallow for Liebing to tag up. Lodge then struck out McCoy and kept Destinee Oenes in the yard on a deep flyout to center field to end the inning.
"That was a key point in the game, because it easily could have been 3-2 and things get a little tight again," Trico coach Drew Franklin said. "But Jordan worked out of it, and she was excellent in the circle all game, hitting her spots and having complete faith in her pitches."
The missed opportunity haunted the Clippers almost immediately. Morgan Vogt led off the top of the fifth with the only walk Doege issued all game, then Witthoft laid down a sacrifice bunt but was safe on another errant throw.
With runners on second and third and nobody out, the lineup again turned over, and Prange made Amboy pay again. The junior catcher ripped a full-count smash over the fence just left of straightaway center field to give Trico (32-3) a five-run cushion.
"Once we went through the lineup one time, I think we really settled down," Prange said. "Then, once we came back out with that 6-1 lead, that was the securing point for us. We knew we only needed nine outs, and that gave us some confidence, and a real lift."
Amboy didn't give in, but couldn't string anything together. Delaney Wilhelm doubled with two outs in the fifth but was stranded, then Liebing drew a one-out walk in the sixth – only to be erased by a hard-hit comebacker that turned into a 1-6-3 double play.
McCoy seemed poised to spark a patented Clipper comeback in the bottom of the seventh, leading off by stroking Lodge's first pitch of the inning into the right-center field gap for a double. But Lodge again had the answer, getting a popout back to the circle and back-to-back strikeouts to send the Pioneers into Saturday's 1A state title game.
"I was ready for that pitch, and I was ready to start the rally," McCoy said. "I put a good swing on a first-pitch strike, did what I needed to do. But the comeback didn't happen, and we'll have to adjust and play better tomorrow."
Lodge struck out 12 and walked one, allowing four hits and one unearned run. Doege (16-8) struck out seven and walked one while matching Lodge's four-hitter, and only two of the six runs were earned.
"We started strong, then it fell apart there in the middle," Liebing said. "But we'll bounce back. We're going to play hard until the end [today], just like we did in this game, and build from it and recover and play better."
Trico 6, Amboy 1
Star of the game: Jessica Prange, Trico, 2-for-4, RBI single, 3-run HR, 2 runs scored
Key performers: Jordan Lodge, Trico, 4-hitter, 12 Ks, 1 BB, 0 earned runs; Kaitlyn Liebing, Amboy, 2-for-2, RBI 2B; Karlee Doege, Amboy, 4-hitter, 2 earned runs, 7 Ks, 1 BB
Up next: 1A third-place game, Amboy vs. West Prairie, 10 a.m. today