Raiders, Rebels breeze into D-III final
By Dan Hiner
Pitching dominated in the Division III softball district semifinals at South Range High School on Tuesday.
Kaedyn Sutton threw a two-hitter in Crestview’s 6-0 win over Waterloo and Bree Kohler led South Range to a 6-2 win over Springfield.
The two teams will meet for the district title on Thursday at South Range.
Sutton only allowed one runner to reach scoring position. Amber Cieplinski walked in the fourth and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Catcher Karsyn Moore threw her out at third on a stolen-base attempt.
Sutton struck out nine in her two-hit shutout. She broke the school record with her 16th win. Shannon Simmons (1998) zand Jessica Sferra (2004) held the record.
“I just wanted to play my game and just do what I do,” Sutton said. “I knew my defense would be able to do it and I knew our bats would be able to hit the ball. I just wanted to play our game like we normally do.”
The Rebels lost in a sectional semifinal last season. On Tuesday, the Rebels (22-5) beat the defending district champs to advance to their first district title.
“It’s crazy to me knowing that we’ve come this far and that we have a chance to go even farther,” said Olivia Strank, who went 2 for 4 with two RBIs and a run scored. “It really means a lot to me that [in my] senior year we have this group. It’s just amazing.”
Amber Cieplinski was intentionally walked in all three of her at-bats. It wasn’t the first time decided to walk the Eastern Illinois commit. South Range intentionally walked her three times last year in a district semifinal.
“She’s a great catcher,” Crestview head coach Greg Eskra said. “I think she got 13 home runs on the year, and we weren’t gonna let her beat us. That was totally out of respect for her. One person shouldn’t be able to beat you, but we weren’t gonna let that happen.”
Strank scored on a wild pitch in the first inning to get the Rebels on the board. She drove in McKenna Schultz and Ashton Hughes on a two-out single in the second to give the Rebels a 3-0 lead.
Baylie Bettura added an RBI double in the third and an RBI single in the sixth. Hughes drove in a run on a safety squeeze in the sixth.
Brooke Twitchell and Taylor Webeck singled for the Vikings. Machensi Kehrer allowed six runs on 12 hits and struck out four in the loss.
Kohler allowed two runs on five hits and two walks. She helped herself in the bottom of the first with a solo home run to center field to open the scoring.
Kohler also got some help from Jillian Strecansky, who was moved into the middle of the order on Tuesday.
Strecansky went 2 for 3 with three RBIs and a run scored. Her bunt single in the fourth drove home Kohler for a 2-0 lead. Her two-run home run in the sixth increased the Raiders’ lead to 6-2.
“I wasn’t really worried about where I was in the lineup,” Strecansky said. “I was just ready to produce for my team and be there and be a team player wherever I was.”
Drew Feren hit a two-run single in the fifth to give the Raiders (19-8) a 4-0 lead and some breathing room.
The Tigers (15-9) didn’t get on the board until the sixth inning. Molly Pontius hit an RBI double to left-center field and Jacqueline Kish followed with a bloop RBI single down the right field line.
“We’ve hit the ball well all year long, but they always say good pitching stops good hitting. That’s what it was,” Springfield head coach Bill Amero said. “[Kohler] threw a good game. We were only able to scatter hits here and there. When we got hits, we weren’t able to follow them up with anything.”
Abby Joseph allowed six runs on eight hits for the Tigers. She struck out one in five-plus innings.
South Range overcame its recent district semifinal nightmares.
The Raiders were the top seed the last two seasons, but didn’t reach the district final since advancing to the state title in 2016.
“That was my goal — to get to this game and win it,” South Range head coach Jeff DeRose said.