SPRINGFIELD — Already battling an illness, Cumberland Kaylee Carlen gave herself plenty more to battle through during Wednesday’s Class 1A softball Super-sectional at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
But when it came down crunch time, it was Carlen’s game.
The Pirates sophomore pitched out of three bases-loaded jams, including in the sixth and seventh innings, as Cumberland knocked off Hardin Calhoun 3-1 to make this weekend’s state tournament.
She had help as Olivia Titus extended her career record for home runs with her 10th in the Pirates victory.
Cumberland entered the game as the No. 5 team in the final Illinois Coaches Association rankings. Calhoun (29-6) was at No. 2.
“This has been one heck of a ride,” said Cumberland coach Marnie Blade, who coached many of the same players to a state title three years ago in junior high. "We are up, we are down. We were tough on the mound tonight.”
Cumberland’s defense didn’t make any errors and the Pirates improved to 18-10. Cumberland will play Goreville at 10 a.m. Friday at Eastside Centre.
"We didn’t crack under pressure," said Blade. "That is what we talked about Tuesday to just keep your cool, nothing rocks you. You don’t have to do anything super natural just be consistent. They went out there and did exactly that."
In the seventh, Hardin Calhoun’s Maddie Baalman hit a ground rule double that rolled under the fence and Allie Hurley followed with a single to left. With one out Emma Baalman drew a walk. Carlen struck out the next batter for her fifth and final strikeout. The game ended appropriately enough with Carlen fielding a full-count pitch and throwing it to first and the celebration was on.
"It was very nerve-wracking and exciting to make the final throw to Thornton," said Carlen, now 9-6.
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Hardin Calhoun left 11 runners on base, including seven in scoring position.
"I had the defense behind me," Carlen said. "My rise ball was working pretty well. It (being at state as an eight grader) helped me move through it and realize that we earn it."
Cumberland broke out on top first in the third inning when Kyla Thornton singled, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. She scored when Audrey Casey reached on a strikeout as the ball bounced in the dirt and to the left of the catcher.
The Pirates added another run in the fourth on a lead-off homer by Titus.
“I was just hoping to hit the ball. I was hoping it was gone,” Titus said. “I kind of closed my eyes for a second and then opened them and thought, ‘Oh, it is over the fence.’ It feels good to go to state again.”
In the fifth Thornton led off by drawing a walk on a full-count pitch and stole second. With one out Poe drove in Thornton with a single to center.
"Kyla has been our rock the last third of the season," said Blade. "For the first time in a long time I really felt we had a true No. 1 hitter. She is quick and has an awesome jump on the ball."
Hardin Calhoun scored its only run in the sixth. Madison Lehr singled to left on a full-count pitch to start the inning. With one out Sara Brodbeck walked and with two outs Bella Oswald reached on an infield single to load the bases. Amy Klunk drove in Lehr for the only run before Poe made a catch in right field to end the frame.
Poe was 3-for-4 with a double and a RBI for Cumberland.