MATTOON — It wasn't until the last minute that Mount Zion's Chayse Ramey figured out she was going to be a pinch hitter.
In the fifth inning, her number was called off the bench with two runners on, one out and a three-run lead in Monday's Class 3A Mattoon Super-sectional against Centralia. She's been on a self-described cold streak.
On a 1-2 count, though, she made contact on an opposite-field triple that barely landed fair. As she rounded second, with two runners having already scored, she could see Mount Zion coach Greg Blakey waiting for her on third base.
He was ecstatic, so much so that Ramey had never seen such an outburst of emotion from him during a game. Blakey let loose a fist pump and issued a massive double high-five to Ramey. The hit unofficially clinched a berth in Friday's Class 3A state semifinals, giving the Braves a five-run lead with red-hot Audrey Eades pitching.
The Braves scored five times in the top of the fifth on the way to an 8-1 win over Centralia to punch their ticket to the state final four after a fourth-place finish at state last season. Mount Zion (30-4-1) will play Sycamore at 12:30 p.m. Friday at EastSide Centre in East Peoria.
“He told me great job and said, ‘I knew you could do it,'" Ramey said.
“Everyone in the dugout was hyping me up and telling me that I got it because I’ve not been hitting well. They were just pushing me and it really helped."
The triple was followed by an RBI double from Emma Ewing, then an RBI double from Dayna Kennedy before Kynzie Wrigley drove in the fifth run of the inning with a single. Just like that, the Braves had a commanding 8-0 lead and were nine outs from back-to-back appearances in the state final four and a second consecutive super-sectional victory over Centralia.
“That kind of broke things open in my mind a little," Blakey said. "We were coming and coming and that kind of opened the floodgates. Hitting is contagious. I thought once that happened we would start rolling it on. It broke the game open for us. It was a huge at bat."
From an elated dugout, Kennedy looked over to third base to see Blakey greet Ramey. Few have seen Blakey exude that kind of emotion on the field, but he delivered.
“I saw his helmet about fly off I thought, ‘Oh gosh, he’s excited. I love that,'" Kennedy said.
The dugout was a similar type of euphoria.
“When Chayse hit that, I felt like an ease of pressure," Kennedy said. "With her coming in, cold off the bench, and getting that big hit, I think it settled out nerves a little bit to have that big inning."
The inning provided Eades (12-1) with more than enough offense. She's been nearly untouchable this postseason, and Monday was no different. She moved through the Centralia (28-4) order with relative ease, allowing one run on four hits with three strikeouts and induced 15 ground-ball outs.
Ramey's triple took any lingering pressure right off of Eades' shoulders. She entered the game feeling like she just needed one run of offense to go back to EastSide Centre. The only inning that she ran into any form of trouble was the second inning, where she allowed two walks an had an error behind her, but she still kept Centralia scoreless.
“I was in the dugout jumping up and down because that was more runs on the board than we need and I just felt amazing," Eades said.
With each passing pitch she walked to the back of the pitcher's circle, took a breath and contemplated how she was going to record the next out. The mindset was simple: Get the Braves back to state.
“Getting us back to state has really been our main goal this whole entire year, so I wanted to make it happen as long as my team had my back," Eades said.
"I was just thinking that my team is so much stronger than we were last year. We came together a lot better in the postseason than we did last year. We knew we were coming here and we knew we were going to beat Centralia."