EAST PEORIA – The contact was more frequent and started a lot sooner Saturday morning at EastSide Centre, but the end result was still the same.
Despite putting a runner on base in all but one inning, the Amboy Clippers finished in fourth-place at the Class 1A state softball tournament, falling 4-0 to West Prairie in the third-place game on Mizuno Field at the EastSide Centre in East Peoria.
"We usually start a little slow, but we had a couple of hits right away today," senior third baseman Destinee Oenes said. "We can usually find the gaps, but we didn't execute as well today."
"We played better defense today," senior second baseman Kelsie Thurman said, "and we hit the ball hard. We just couldn't put the hits together."
Six different Clippers had hits, led by Thurman's two from the leadoff spot. But Amboy (22-11) stranded nine runners on base, including seven in scoring position.
The best scoring chances came in the third and the sixth innings. Thurman led off the third with a single, went to second on Madeline Ely's sacrifice bunt, then scampered to third when Kaitlyn Liebing reached on an error.
But with runners on second and third and one out, West Prairie pitcher Kourtney Campbell got a popout and a groundout to escape the threat.
She wiggled out of another jam in the sixth, as Karlee Doege led off with a double and went to third on Micaela McCoy's bloop single. But with runners on second and third and nobody out and trailing 4-0, the Clippers came up empty after back-to-back strikeouts and a popout.
"She's been wiggling out of tough spots all year," West Prairie coach Jim Scott said. "She relies on the solid defense behind her, and we got the job done when it counted today."
"I wasn't even thinking strikeout in that situation," said Campbell (27-9), who struck out eight, walked one, and scattered seven Amboy hits. "We work so well as a group, and I know I just have to make a few good pitches to get out of those jams."
While the Clippers struggled to put hits together, the Cyclones (27-10) came through in the clutch. Tabby Bilderback had one-out RBI single in the third, then Campbell added one in the fourth for a 2-0 lead.
It could have been worse at that point, if not for some web gems by Amboy. McCoy threw out a runner at home in the first inning, then hit the cutoff on Bilderback's third-inning single to get an out at third. Ely thwarted another potential rally in the sixth with a pretty play on a grounder that took her right to the bag at second, to end another threat.
But Bilderback doubled with one out in the fifth, then moved to third on a sac bunt, and scored on Hanna Runner's two-out double. Runner then scored on a throwing error on Jen Reedy's grounder to third for a 4-0 lead with six Amboy outs to go.
"We kept waiting for that big hit, that big boost," McCoy said, "but we couldn't find that one person to step up and take the lead. That's what usually happens, but we couldn't get it done today.
"But we still gave it our best shot, played better softball today, and that's all you can ask for."
Doege (16-9) took the loss, allowing four runs (three earned) and eight hits, with three strikeouts and a walk. The freshman gave way to Oenes in the sixth inning, and the senior finished her career in the circle with a hitless inning, walking one.
Star of the game: Kourtney Campbell, West Prairie, complete-game shutout, 8 Ks, 1 BB; RBI single
Key performers: Tabby Bilderback, West Prairie, 2 hits, RBI, run; Kelsie Thurman, Amboy, 2 hits