OAKLAND — Illinois Valley fans said the ball was foul by a good four feet. Oakland fans said they were sure they saw chalk fly.
Either way, what Oakland thought was a game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh inning was ruled foul, and the Cougars scored two runs in the top of the eighth to beat the Oakers in a 17-15 softball marathon to open the Class 2A/1A state playoffs Monday at Oakland High School.
“That was emotionally and physically draining,” Oakland coach Johanna Held said. “These kids, my God.”
The Cougars’ Kiara Walker hit a two-run double in the top of the eighth inning to give Illinois Valley the 17-15 lead. In the bottom of the eighth — with Oakland runners on second and third — Walker induced Ashly Williams into a ground ball to Cougars shortstop Morgan Melton, who fired across the infield to first baseman Megan Creek for the final out of the game.
The game lasted 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Illinois Valley carried a 15-9 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning, but Oakland cut that deficit by two runs on a run-scoring single by Haylee Templeton and a bases-loaded walk drawn by Emily Hammer.
Oakland (14-11 overall) blanked the Cougars in the top of the seventh and scored four runs in consecutive at-bats by Mya Fauver (single), Gwen Field (single), Templeton (ground-rule double) and Williams (groundout), tying the game at 15-15.
With Templeton standing on third base with one out, I.V. coach Justine Johnson opted to issue intentional walks to both Hammer and Cerena Thacker to put a force out at any base in play with Kelsie Pfaff coming to the plate.
On the second pitch, Pfaff laced a line drive down the right field line which appeared to score Templeton with the winning run. As the Oakers celebrated their win outside their dugout, the umpiring crew gathered and determined Pfaff’s hit was indeed a foul ball.
“It’s heartbreaking in one sense, but we are so young,” Held said. “For the most part, there were a lot of moments where we did play at our peak.”
Illinois Valley came out firing from the first pitch, jumping to a 5-0 lead through the top of the second inning. But Oakland would answer, scoring nine runs in the bottom of the second.
A bunt single by Williams loaded the bases for the Oakers with no outs, and those bases stayed loaded in a half inning which lasted nearly 40 minutes. Oakland got run scoring singles from Hailee Bean, Thacker, Teagan Fauver and Maddie Dalberti, and Field and Templeton drew bases-loaded walks as part of that nine-run frame.
Illinois Valley didn’t fold under the weight of the Oakers’ big inning. Rather, the Cougars would score nine of their own over the next two innings to seemingly take control before Oakland rallied to tie.
By the end of the game, the entire Oakers’ defense consisted entirely of sophomores and freshmen.
“I think if this group can put in the work and stay together, we’re going to be pretty strong the next couple of years,” Held said.
Illinois Valley (16-7) travels to Willamina for a second-round game Wednesday.
I. Valley 235 410 02 — 17 12 0
Oakland 090 002 40 — 15 23 3
Walker and Miller; Dalberti and T. Fauver. W — Walker. L — Dalberti. 2B — Murphy (IV), Walker (IV), Miller (IV), Templeton (O). 3B — T. Fauver (O).
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