SPRINGFIELD — All Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg needed was 60 more feet.
The Hatchets had a runner on third with two outs in each of the final four innings on Monday at the Class 1A Springfield (UIS) Super-sectional against Hardin Calhoun. Each time danger approached, Calhoun pitcher Sydney Baalman swatted it away.
“It was very frustrating because every time we did it there were two outs," said W/SS starter Megan Schlechte of stranding a runner at third. "We couldn’t squeeze bunt."
W/SS managed just one hit, a single up the middle with two outs in the top of the seventh inning by second baseman Ava Bennett, who later advanced to third unchallenged to put the game-tying run at third base.
Then Baalman recorded her 14th strikeout, setting down Maddy Pfeiffer to end the game.
The other four Hatchers (35-2-1) baserunners reached third by virtue of a walk or a hit by pitch, followed by stealing second and third before Baalman worked out of danger.
“It just seems like we weren’t quite as sharp and we didn’t square very many balls up against her," WSS coach Craig Moffett said. "We’ve got to tip our cap mostly to them. I think our girls were ready to hit."
For as good as Baalman was in the circle, the WSS combination of Schlechte and Calla Roney matched it. Calhoun (31-4) got a weakly hit infield single in the first inning by Lucy Kallal, who advanced to third after a pair of wild pitchers and scored on a groundout by Baalman.
"At that point you think: We’re going to score," Moffett said. "We just didn’t."
One run was all the Warriors could work against the combination of Roney and Schlechte, but it was all they needed.
“One run ... I thought we would be on the losing side," Calhoun coach Duane Sievers said. "It was a fantastic pitching game on both sides. Their pitchers did a good job. We’re just very fortunate we got out of here with a win."
Roney came the closest to cracking Baalman. She roped a line drive to right field in the fourth inning with catcher Mackenzi Tabbert on third base ready to score. Instead, the ball landed right in Kallal's glove. She led off the top of the seventh inning and tattooed a ball to deep center field, but Elly Pohlman drifted back for the catch.
A stiff wind blowing in at UIS likely kept Roney's seventh-inning shot from going over the fence.
“I was hoping really bad," Roney said on if she thought one of those balls would find space in the outfield. "The wind wasn’t our friend. I was hoping, but it’s hard."
Monday's game was nearly a carbon copy of last season's super-sectional game between the two teams where the Hatchets fell behind 2-0 early before tying the game in the fourth and taking the lead in the fifth. That time around, they got to Baalman.
“We thought we could do it again," Schlechte said. "It was the same pitcher. We’re better than we were last year. We just couldn’t pull it out."
WSS stole a total of nine bases against Calhoun. Sievers said conceded stolen bases because the wind was knocking down catcher Mackenzie Cranmer's throws to second.
“We got to the point where we were just going to let it happen," Sievers said. "Syd will strike them out. Let’s go ahead and get the strikeout."
Baalman has breezed through most lineups she's faced this season. She entered the game with a 1.00 ERA in 154.2 innings pitched with 328 strikeouts. The Hatchets have seen pitchers who threw harder than Baalman, but her speed combined with her movement had WSS off balance all day.
Karlie Bean put solid contact on Baalman to lead off the fifth inning, but the ball was swallowed by the glove of second baseman Ashleigh Presley.
“She challenges you every at bat; we just couldn’t string a couple things together," Roney said. "We ran on their catcher; we didn’t have any problems with that. We just couldn’t push that runner across with a hit. She’s mentally tough. She’s grown a lot as a pitcher in a year."