When Brooke Culler walked to lead off the top of the seventh, Champion softball coach Cheryl Weaver had a feeling.
The Golden Flashes’ Division III regional final against Sullivan Black River was tied at zero and Champion had already stranded seven runners.
But Weaver still had her hunch.
Two batters later, with two outs, junior Sierra Blackson ripped a single up the middle that scored Culler.
“I knew that in time we were going to score,” Weaver said. “The key was making sure they didn’t. I knew it was going to be low scoring all the way around.
“I was glad we were able to get one home.”
It’s all Champion could get and all that was needed for its seventh regional title in school history, second-straight state berth and fifth one-run victory of the season.
“It was definitely something we were working towards,” pitcher Lindsay Swipas said. “I wouldn’t say we expected it, but it is nice to be back.”
The Flashes (22-2) tallied five hits before Blackson’s game-winning knock.
“A good pitch was really the only thing I was looking for,” Blackson said. “I had confidence because I’ve been having a pretty good season. I just saw it and I was like, ‘I’m going to hit it.’ It’s probably my only chance and that found a hole and it’s what we needed.”
Swipas turned in her customary dominating performance with 14 strikeouts. She walked just one and hit a batter, but the Pirates didn’t get a base hit until the bottom of the fourth inning.
“Usually she starts out slow and she gets stronger,” Weaver said. “She still had pop on that ball [in the later innings]. She’s just really in shape.”
Adapting to the 85-degree heat wasn’t a problem, either. In fact, Swipas embraced it.
“It actually helps my ball move a little more,” she said. “I like it.”
This was the first regional appearance for Black River (22-10) and its first season of winning more than 20 games. The Pirates graduate eight seniors from their record-setting team.
“This was probably the two best teams in the state, right here,” Black River coach Merle Simmons said. “It’s too bad we weren’t playing for the championship — it’s the regional championship. That’s the way it is sometimes.”
Simmons said facing Swipas was an obvious challenge, but nothing new for his team.
“We have seen this all year,” he said. “We scrimmage all big schools, it’s just a little bit harder when you don’t have a lot of time to prepare. It was a jump from what we saw on Wednesday and [Swipas] got a little bit better of us than we got of her.”
Swipas, McKenzie Kiser, Emilee Hohvart, Hailey Gardiner and Blackson’s first-inning bloop single were Champion’s other hits. The Flashes made decent contact and were struck out just eight times by Dagmar Smith.
“She pitched great the entire game and we were hitting off her, just right to people,” Blackson said.
Pirates shortstop Norah Smith made a diving circus catch in shallow left field, robbing Haley McAllister of a hit in the fourth inning. Kailey Summer picked up Black River’s only two hits.