DURAND – Playing in cold, blustery conditions Tuesday, Eastland and Forreston had no trouble staying hot at the plate.
In the end, it was the Cougars’ bats that scored six runs in the top of the seventh inning to beat the Cardinals 12-10 in the second Class 1A Durand sectional semifinal at Nick Saelens Memorial Park.
Forreston (17-10) led 7-6 with just two outs to get to reach Friday’s sectional final, but couldn’t close against the Cougars’ potent offense.
Talena Rogers started the rally with a one-out single in the final inning for Eastland. Rogers then stole second, and Haley Wilson reached on an error by Forreston pitcher Sam Greenfield to put runners on the corners.
Erica Dambman, who finished 4-for-4 out of the No. 9 spot in the Cougars’ lineup, executed a suicide squeeze bunt to score Rogers and tie the game at seven.
“[Eastland coach Keali Eich] asked, ‘How do you feel about a suicide squeeze?,’ and I said, ‘I got it,’” Dambman explained. “I knew my ability and my teammates’ ability. I had to do it for them.”
Emma Norton followed with another squeeze bunt to score pinch-runner Chloe Sweitzer to give Eastland (25-4) the lead for good.
“We made sure to work on bunting before this game,” Eich said. “We had to be able to get a bunt down no matter what.”
Small ball set the stage for a pair of knockout blows by two of the Cougars’ big bats. Meredith Janssen drilled a ground-rule double into the left-center gap to bring in a pair of runs, and Gabby Snyder blooped a double into shallow right field to bring in two more insurance runs.
The first two Cardinals reached to lead off the bottom of the seventh, prompting Eich to bring in Addie Burkholder to pitch in relief of Norton for the second time in the game.
Brycelynn Smith recorded a one-out single to bring in a run, and Taylor Greenfield swatted a two-out single to make it 12-10. However, Burkholder got Alexus Houston to pop out to Erin Henze in shallow right field to end the thriller.
“Hats off to them for adjusting to our pitcher and getting a couple big hits to seal the deal,” Forreston coach Kim Snider said. “We fought tooth and nail. I couldn’t be more proud of our kids to come back almost every inning. We gave ourselves the opportunity to win the ballgame at the end.”
Eastland squandered a golden chance to tie or take the lead an inning earlier. Henze beat out an infield single to lead off the sixth, and Jenna Green was intentionally walked. Janssen beat out a bunt single, but Chloe Waller was thrown out trying to score. Snyder then lined out to Taylor Greenfield at third, who doubled off courtesy runner Bailey Thede to end the threat.
The Cougars went 8-for-17 with runners in scoring position, and left nine on base. The Cardinals were 7-for-21 with runners in scoring position, and left 10 on base.
Eastland led 2-1 after the first inning. Janssen had an RBI single up the middle to score Norton, who worked a leadoff walk. Snyder executed a squeeze bunt to bring in Green, who was intentionally walked.
Taylor Greenfield recorded a two-out RBI single through the left side for Forreston, scoring Kara Erdmann.
Dambman started a two-out rally in the second. She smacked a ground-rule double into the right-center gap, Norton was intentionally walked, and Henze made the Cardinals pay by serving a single through the right side to bring in both runners to make it 4-1.
Burkholder came on in relief in the bottom of the second after Norton walked the first two batters of the inning. Mackenzie Schreiber scored on a one-out fielder’s choice in which Erdmann beat Snyder to the bag at third, and Taylor Greenfield smacked a single up the middle to score Erdmann and Brycelynn Smith to tie it at four.
Norton returned to the circle in the third, and promptly induced three groundouts.
Dambman kicked off another rally in the fourth. She singled on the first pitch of the inning by Erdmann, and Norton swatted a ground-rule double. Henze blooped a single to bring in both runners and chase Erdmann.
The soft-tossing Sam Greenfield came on in relief to limit the damage for Forreston, which went ahead 7-6 with three runs in the bottom of the fourth.
Erdmann and Smith recorded singles to lead off the bottom half. Kaylee Kloster popped out to the catcher Green up the third-base line, but both runners alertly tagged up and moved into scoring position. Alexus Houston delivered a two-out single through the left side to tie it at six, and Paityn Broshous sent a hard liner off Norton that deflected into right field, allowing Houston to score.
Norton improved to 19-2 in the circle despite allowing nine runs (seven earned), seven hits and five walks in five-plus innings.
Sam Greenfield took the loss, allowing six runs and eight hits in four innings. Erdmann allowed six runs and eight hits in her three-plus innings for the Cardinals.