Softball: Bureau Valley has all the answers to take regional title

Storm take lead, respond every time Princeton tries to take momentum in Rock Falls

Bureau Valley’s Lesleigh Maynard (center) celebrates a diving catch to end the game and take the win against Princeton Friday, May 17, 2024 at the Class 2A regional semifinals in Rock Falls.

ROCK FALLS – A third meeting between two rivals came down to one run Friday evening in the Class 2A Rock Falls Regional title game.

In the end, a scrappy, resilient Bureau Valley squad pulled off its second upset of the week, defeating Bureau County and Three Rivers Conference rival Princeton 6-5 in a thriller that went down to the wire.

After the No. 3-seeded Tigresses (17-8) won both meetings during the regular season season, the seventh-seeded Storm (17-9) – who beat No. 2 seed Morrison in Tuesday’s semifinal – got their revenge by claiming their second regional championship in program history, and first since 2006.

“This is awesome, and it’s so huge for us. No one thought we would win [this regional], and it was awesome that we were able to come out and do it,” BV shortstop Lesleigh Maynard said.

“It means everything,” BV pitcher Madison Smith said. “We were playing for Shep [head coach Dave Shepard] tonight; it means everything for him and for us.”

“It’s crazy. We’ve been talking about it all season, and it’s just awesome,” BV catcher Emily Wright added. “We were really excited to play today. We knew it would be hard since we lost to them twice, but we didn’t let it get into our heads. We came to win, and I feel like we just stayed up the whole time. It was a really fun game.”

Bureau Valley took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first on an RBI single by Wright and a wild pitch, then when Princeton cut it to 2-1 in the bottom of the inning on Keely Lawson’s RBI groundout, the Storm scored in the second on another RBI single by Wright.

Bureau Valley celebrates Emma Stull’s home run against Princeton Friday, May 17, 2024 at the Class 2A regional semifinals in Rock Falls.

The Tigresses tied the score in the third on Caroline Keutzer’s run-scoring single, but again BV pulled ahead, this time with Emma Stull’s solo home run in the top of the fourth. Princeton tied it 4-4 on Makayla Hecht’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the fourth, but BV pitcher Smith helped her own cause in the fifth with an RBI single for a 5-4 lead.

“That’s something we were trying really hard to do tonight, just keep the momentum going, keep our energy up, stay in control the whole game,” Smith said.

Both teams had chances to take control of the game in the latter innings.

BV had the bases loaded with nobody out in the top of the sixth, and Princeton pitcher Avah Oertel limited the damage to an RBI infield single by Sadie Bailey before getting a popout, lineout and groundout to end the threat.

“They scored early and then we answered back, but they kept answering and got ahead and we just couldn’t get over the hump, get that big hit that we needed,” Princeton’s Kelsea Klingenberg said. “This was our third time playing them, and we knew beating them three times was going to be difficult. It was a high-pressure game and we had to make plays. They played a great game.”

Princeton’s Keely Lawson (left) and Sylvie Rutledge come together on a pop-up against Bureau Valley Friday, May 17, 2024 at the Class 2A regional semifinals in Rock Falls.

Smith found herself in jams in both the fifth and sixth innings. Princeton had runners on second and third with one out in the fifth, but came up empty as Smith got a popout and groundout to Maynard. Then in the sixth, the Tigresses loaded the bases with one out, but Smith got a pair of strikeouts around Klingenberg’s RBI infield single that a diving Maynard kept on the infield to hold Princeton to just one run and keep the lead.

“We just didn’t let down. We believed in ourselves and kept our energy going. We knew we could do it, and we didn’t want to let anyone down,” Wright said. “We definitely stuck with outside pitches a lot. … Madison was hitting her spots like crazy, and that really helped.”

“I just trusted my teammates,” Smith said. “I made sure to throw strikes because I knew my teammates were behind me. My curveball was really working tonight, so I kind of stuck with that the whole game.”

Princeton’s Keely Lawson tags out Bureau Valley’s Lesleigh Maynard Friday, May 17, 2024 at the Class 2A regional semifinals in Rock Falls.

Oertel pitched around a one-out single in the top of the seventh to keep it a 6-5 game, then after giving up a leadoff single, Smith struck out the next batter before right fielder Kate Stoller and Maynard made nice catches on line drives to end the game. Stoller was perfectly positioned in short right-center for the second out of the inning, then Maynard dove to snag a liner up the middle to seal the win.

“I was just trying to stay calm in the moment. It was a big moment, and I didn’t want to let it get to me,” Maynard said. “I just reacted. Once I caught it, I wasn’t letting it go.

“All game, we were just making sure we were behind our pitcher. I just thought that we all did really well with that. It was so awesome that everybody played a part in this win.”

Bureau Valley catcher Emily Wright and Kadyn Haage collide on a pop up at the plate against Princeton Friday, May 17, 2024 at the Class 2A regional semifinals in Rock Falls. Wright caught the ball but lost her mitt in the arms of Haage. The ball trickled out for a foul.

Wright had two hits and two RBIs, Maynard also had two hits and scored twice and Bailey added two hits and drive in a run as the top four hitters in BV’s batting order went 7 for 14 with four runs and four RBIs.

Hecht went 4 for 4 with two runs and an RBI for Princeton and Klingenberg finished 3 for 3 with a double and drove in two. Keutzer and Samantha Woolley each had a pair of hits and a run scored and Keutzer added an RBI.

“We had a lot of chances, and we tried to keep the energy up, but we just had to put the ball in play more and keep the pressure on them,” Hecht said. “We felt good that we were going to have chances again every time they took the lead, and I’m very proud of our team. We didn’t just sit down and wait for something to happen; we came back and kept fighting.

“We definitely have a lot of resilience, and we’re a very young team. We have a lot of plans the next couple of years.”

Bureau Valley’s Lesleigh Maynard waits for the throw as Princeton’s Makayla Hecht slides in safe Friday, May 17, 2024 at the Class 2A regional semifinals in Rock Falls.
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