North Stars ace Ava Goettel, a junior, went toe-to-toe with Edwardsville senior star pitcher Rayleigh Owens – who entered with a 20-1 record, 0.58 ERA and 160 strikeouts – over her five innings.
”She’s tough,” North Stars coach Tom Poulin said of Goettel. “I said it last time we talked. Last year, she was in jams against good teams and she just battles. She’s so calm in the moment. She’s living in the moment. She just does what she needs to do to get out of the innings and then she’s the one who comes over and says, ‘Yeah, I think it’s time for [Murray].“
Julia Larson’s instinctive base running for the North Stars’ insurance run, meanwhile, was just part of the tale of an eventful game. Edwardsville fell to 31-4-1 with the loss.
Locked in a scoreless pitchers’ duel in the fifth inning, Edwardsville’s Sydney Lawrence reached on a single to start a pivotal sequence in the game.
After stealing second base, Lawrence broke for third as Larson appeared to slightly drift away from the bag.
Goettel still held the ball in the circle. Lawerence took off and stood on third, apparently with a stolen base for a brief moment.
Goettel, meanwhile, threw to second base. After a lengthy umpire conference, Lawrence was called out in a momentum-shifting play.
“When the ball is in the circle, you can go one direction [in the base paths] unless they make a play on you,” Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said. “If they make a play, then you can change direction. [Lawrence] didn’t change direction in any way, but it is what it is. We had opportunities and that play didn’t determine the game. It’s just two different interpretations of the rule. … The first three innings, we had opportunities to score and just couldn’t get it.”
“Zoey did what I told her to do,” Blade said. “It’s on me. Do I agree with the call? I do not. But [the umpires] interpret the rule different than I do. Obviously, it cost us. Who knows what happens? But she did exactly what I wanted her to do. The ball is in play. They left a base, we took the base. They called her out for leaving.”
Goettel knew she was in the circle.
“I knew she was going to be out no matter what they were talking about,” Goettel said. “I never stepped out of that circle and I checked her at second. She was standing still. She’s not going when I am in the circle and she can’t move. She can’t go.”
Goettel, who escaped a number of small jams in the first three innings, forced a groundout and earned her fourth strikeout to escape that threat. Goettel went five innings, surrendering three hits. She struck out four.
After a clean sixth inning by Murray that featured two strikeouts, the North Stars’ offense took over.
Margo Geary reached on a leadoff single and Leigh Vande Hei’s groundout moved her to second. Ashlee Chantos followed with a single and advanced to second when the throw went to home plate to stop Geary from advancing.
Julia Larson then slapped a grounder to Owens, whose throw home to catcher Lexie Griffin skipped away as Geary came home for the first run of the game.
Chantos was caught in a rundown between third and home and was tagged out. Larson, who had advanced to second and then third, saw an opening to dash home as the ball went back to Owens. Larson scored for a 2-0 North Stars lead.
“No, [North Stars coach Tom Poulin] didn’t give me anything [like a stop sign],” Larson said. “He was looking at home plate, just like everyone else. I just took off.”
“That’s all [Larson],” Poulin said. “She’s got one of the highest softball IQs of anyone I’ve ever coached. She’s a coach on the field and those plays – she’s done that here and there throughout the season. When it happens, it doesn’t surprise you. [Well], it shocks you initially and [then] you realize that’s just Julia being Julia.”
In the seventh, Murray gave up a two-out walk, but sent the North Stars into the championship game with her third strikeout in relief to end it.
Owens had a complete game, allowing four hits and striking out two.
“Ryleigh makes that play [on the throw home] 99% of the time,” Blade said. “Then they snuck one in on us, but that’s how the game goes, especially at this level. It goes quick and you have to be able to do your job.”