ROCKRIDGE 13, TREMONT 1 (5)
BRIMFIELD — For the first time this postseason, the Rockridge softball team found itself facing a deficit.
The way the Rockets, and junior first baseman Hailee Dehner in particular, responded after Tremont's Paige McAllister belted a lead-off, first-inning home run ensured that the early deficit would be a mere trifle. The defending Class 2A state champion Rockets responded with another powerful hitting performance to earn a 13-1, five-inning win in Friday's Class 2A Brimfield Sectional championship game.
With two outs and Amelia Thomas on second, McAllister was one strike away from retiring Dehner and getting out of the home half of the first with no runs allowed. Dehner would not be denied, though, lacing a double to score Thomas and changing the complexion of the game.
"When I went up there, I knew I had to put the ball where they couldn't get it," said Dehner, who went 3-for-3 and drove in four runs. "It took a lot of pressure off to get that run back."
Rockridge (30-6) then cut loose for seven runs in the bottom of the second inning, sending 10 batters to the plate and capping the inning with a two-run single by Olivia Drish. Prior to that, RBI knocks from Thomas, Lexi Hines and Dehner fueled the fire.
"When they got the home run, we weren't worried," said Drish (2-for-2, three RBIs). "We knew we'd get hits, so there were no worries. We're solid everywhere, and if someone makes a mistake, we pick each other up."
Reaching the 30-win mark for the third time in the last four seasons with its fourth straight sectional title, the Rockets move on to Monday's 11 a.m. Peoria Super-Sectional at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex and will face the winner of today's Orion Sectional title game between Sterling Newman and Winnebago.
"We're so excited to be here, and with everything that's happening," said Dehner. "Everything counts."
After yielding the leadoff homer to McAllister, Thomas settled down and retired 11 of the next 12 batters she faced as she moved to 10-0 by tossing a two-hitter with a walk and three strikeouts. She also went 2-for-3 at the plate.
"Early runs are going to happen," Thomas said. "There was never a doubt that we were going to score. I missed my spot on the home run, so I just had to go back to hitting my spots and let my defense help get me out of the inning."
Rockridge followed its seven-run second with five runs in the third as Hines (2-for-4) drove in her second run and Dehner capped her day with a two-run knock. In four postseason wins, the Rockets have outscored their opposition 43-2.
But for all of the damage inflicted on the Turks (19-5) in the second and third innings, it was Dehner's response to a situation new to the Rockets this postseason that effectively won the game.
"I think when that happened, it brought the team back to the pace where we were the game before, and brought back the momentum we've been experiencing lately," said Rockridge coach John Nelson. "We're good at scoring runs, and we answered. We'll enjoy this, but we're definitely looking forward to Monday."