Softball: Pressure pays off for Princeton in regional win over Rock Falls

Tigresses finally come through in final innings to top Rock Falls in 2A regional semifinal

Princeton’s Makayla Hecht slides in safe with the winning run in the bottom of the 7th against Rock Falls Wednesday, May 15, 2024 a the Class 2A regional softball semifinal.

ROCK FALLS – Princeton kept up the pressure all game long, and eventually it paid off Wednesday afternoon in its 2A Rock Falls Regional semifinal.

The third-seeded Tigresses had base runners in all but one inning, and they finally broke through with runs in each of the final three innings to defeat No. 6 seed Rock Falls 3-2 and advance to Friday’s title game against rival Bureau Valley.

“To score runs, you’ve got to get runners on base, then move them around. We just kept getting those chances, putting the pressure on them, and it definitely gave us confidence that we could get it done,” Kelsea Klingenberg said.

It was Klingenberg who came up with the walk-off grounder, as she hit a hard smash to third base that drove in Makayla Hecht, who beat the throw home after a brief bobble.

“I was thinking about hitting it on the ground, put the ball in play and make them make a decision,” Klingenberg said. “They were either going to make a play on me and Makayla would score, or they were going to hold onto it and the bases would be loaded for Avah [Oertel] coming up behind me. I had a lot of confidence in her.”

Princeton celebrates their walk-off win against Rock Falls Wednesday, May 15, 2024 a the Class 2A regional softball semifinal.

Hecht led off the final inning with a single to right field, then went from first to third on Caroline Keutzer’s sacrifice bunt. Keely Lawson followed with another bunt, and the Rockets fielded the ball but opted not to throw to first in order to keep Hecht at third; Lawson kept running and wound up on second base.

Klingenberg then came through on a 1-2 pitch with the game-winning RBI to third.

That was a theme throughout the game for Princeton (17-7), as all three run-scoring hits came with two strikes – and two came with two outs.

The Tigresses had 11 hits in the game, and five never left the infield – including Sylvie Rutledge’s grounder into the hole at shortstop that drove in Oertel with the tying run in the bottom of the sixth.

“I think we were very confident. I know a lot of us were thinking [hit it to the] right side, and just get the ground balls and line drives,” Oertel said. “All of us were thinking base hits, and I think we accomplished that very well.”

Rock Falls’s Katrina Lecaj tags out Princeton’s Kelsea Klingenberg Wednesday, May 15, 2024 at the Class 2A regional softball semifinal.

Rock Falls (12-17) grabbed the momentum right off the bat, as Ari Reyna celebrated her mom’s birthday with a two-out, two-run double to right-center in the top of the first to drive in Olivia Osborne and Maddison Morgan for a quick 2-0 lead.

“That definitely helped us, definitely got us going. We stayed up and excited after that first inning, even though we didn’t score after that,” Reyna said. “It was a big part of us just having that momentum and excitement throughout the entire game.”

Freshman pitcher Zoey Silva then did a masterful job of keeping the lead for the next five innings, despite throwing a plethora of pressure pitches with a lot of traffic on the base paths behind her. She struck out four without a walk in her first postseason start.

“It was really exciting every time we got out of an inning with the lead. We lost when we played against them earlier this season, so starting off ahead really got us going,” Silva said. “I was throwing my curveball a lot tonight, and that was definitely working for me. They were hitting my screwball, so Olivia and I kind of stayed away from that. I think my curve and my dropball were really working for me tonight.”

Rock Falls’ Zoey Silva fires a pitch against Princeton Wednesday, May 15, 2024 a the Class 2A regional softball semifinal.

Princeton cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the fifth, as Samantha Woolley led off the inning with a double to left-center, went to third on Rutledge’s sac bunt, then scored on Izzy Gibson’s two-out double to left-center.

The Tigresses then loaded the bases, but Silva got a lineout to center fielder Jeslyn Krueger – one of nine batted balls that went right to a Rock Falls defender – to end that threat with the lead intact at 2-1.

But fellow freshman Oertel was just as sharp in the circle for Princeton. She relieved Reese Reviglio in the second inning and proceeded to pitch six shutout innings, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out six.

“Throw strikes, that’s all I wanted to do, that’s all that was going through my head. I was a little rocky with the riseball, but other than that, everything else was working pretty good,” Oertel said. “It was really big to keep them from scoring more, and the defense behind me did a great job as well. They really helped me a lot out there.”

Princeton’s Avah Oertel fires a pitch against Rock Falls Wednesday, May 15, 2024 a the Class 2A regional softball semifinal.

Her biggest escape was in the top of the fourth. Rock Falls loaded the bases with nobody out on back-to-back singles by Morgan and Reyna and a walk to Nicolette Udell, but Oertel kept her cool and struck out the next three batters to get out of the inning unscathed.

“I was nervous, but that really changed the momentum,” Klingenberg said. “Avah did awesome, and we got hyped and took a lot of motivation from that.”

“It definitely was a letdown that we didn’t score, but we had other innings where we had chances too,” Reyna said. “It was tough for us, but what can you do? She pitched well and got out of it.”

All nine Tigresses had a hit; Keutzer and Rutledge led the way with two each.

Morgan and Reyna each had a pair of hits for the Rockets.

Rock Falls’s Maddison Morgan dives back to third against Princeton Wednesday, May 15, 2024 a the Class 2A regional softball semifinal.
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