EAST DUNDEE – Hiawatha starting pitcher Alexis Ross felt the pressure in Saturday's Class 1A Westminster Christian Regional final against Alden-Hebron.
Ross, a freshman who also pitched in the Hawks' regional semifinal, might have bent, but she didn't break, holding A-H to five runs (three earned) in seven innings and striking out a pair. Hiawatha scored in the bottom of the sixth to break a tie, defeating the Giants, 6-5, at Jockey Field.
With the win, the Hawks advance to the Pearl City Sectional, where they will meet Amboy, which defeated Newman Central Catholic, 3-2, in the Eastland Regional championship, in a sectional semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“I thought it was going to be a high-scoring game,” Hiawatha coach David Tamraz said. “I knew it was going to be close, because the two teams play at a similar level. We didn't make as many mistakes as [A-H], which is why we won today.”
Ross allowed 10 hits and walked four, but she never gave in to the Giants' hitters when faced with a high-pressure situation. Ross said she was both nervous and excited to start her first regional championship.
“I was nervous, but I was confident,” said Ross, who is 6-5 on the season. “It got a little nervewracking when there were two, three people on the bases, but I didn't want to let my teammates down.
“The offense stuck together after I gave up two [runs] early and came back for me. It's a pretty cool feeling to win a regional championship as a freshman.”
Hiawatha (8-13) led 5-2 heading into the top of the sixth inning, when things got interesting.
A-H's Tiffany Demato reached first base on an error, followed by an infield single from Madi Brown and walk from Zoee Lagerhausen. With the bases loaded, Emily Cunningham singled to score Demato, and the relay home beat Brown, who retreated to third base where Lagerhausen was also standing. The Hawks tagged out Lagerhausen, but Brown took off for home and scored with no one covering.
The next batter singled in a run to tie the game at 5, and Ross got out of the inning with no further damage on a pop out, walk and groundout. Only one of the runs charged to Ross was earned.
The bottom of the sixth started innocently with two groundouts to short. Freshman Hannah Corn then walked and stole second, before Haley Zuberbier hit a high fly ball to right field, which the right fielder dropped for an error. Corn never stopped running and scored easily, giving the Hawks a 6-5 lead.
Ross came back out for the seventh and retired A-H in order, her only one-two-three inning of the game.
“It takes a lot of guts to do what she [Ross] did,” Tamraz said. “She threw strikes when she had to and came through for the team. As a freshman, thatís big time.”
Ross, Haley Melendez, Madi Marshall and Alanna Sterling all scored in a four-run second inning for the Hawks. Lauren Watson (2 for 4) had a two-RBI single in the fourth, and Melendez scored again in the fifth on an RBI double from Presley Fisher.