EUREKA – The Eureka softball team closed the regular season with its first shutout and sweep of the spring over Blackburn on Saturday at Sweitzer Field.
First, the Red Devils earned an 8-0 victory by run rule in five innings in the opener. Then, the team grinded out a 7-9 win to complete the sweep in Game 2.
"This is something we've been trying to do all year, and it's kind of nice that we get to do it before we get to the conference tournament," Eureka senior Jordan Heinz (Washington, Ill./Washington) said. "It's definitely a feel-good moment for us; our seniors needed it."
"It was very exciting and very well-earned," Eureka senior Kennedy Savage (Bloomington, Ill./Normal) said. "We work really hard on-and-off the field every single day. Today, we came together as a team and they were just all-around fun wins."
Senior No. 1 pitcher Torre Koontz (Lakewood, Ill./Shelbyville) tossed a five-inning two-hitter in the circle while striking out four batters.
She was also one of five EC batters to tally a double in the win. The other four were St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference batting average leader Raelyn Payne (Lexington, Ill./Lexington), Aubrey Sanders Morgan Ledbetter (Hanna City, Ill./Elmwood), Aubrey Sanders (Paris, Ill./Paris) and Savage.
The Red Devils notched eight runs on seven hits. Another senior, Allison Cagley (Fairbury, Ill./Prairie Central) went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Eureka started strong, with Koontz retiring the side in the top of the first and Ledbetter driving in a run with a double and Savage doubling to bring home two more in the bottom half.
Cagley singled with the bases loaded to make it 4-0 in the second, then EC added three more in the third.
This time, Sanders started it with a leadoff double. Two batters later, Koontz doubled up the middle to send her home. Bailey Tibbetts (Pekin, Ill./Pekin), another senior, reached first on an error, Elly Maier (Clinton, Ill./Clinton) moved the runners with a sacrifice bunt and Payne found a gap for a two-run double.
That made it 7-0.
Eureka went down in order in the fourth, but the home team's game-ending score came in the fifth on a muffed throw that allowed Abby Newmister (Bloomington, Ill./Bloomington Central Catholic) to score an unearned run.
The Red Devils completed the win without making any errors.
"Our first game, we absolutely killed it." Heinz said. "Our second game, we had to work for it, but it was a good team win."
Game 2 was more of a back-and-forth affair, but Eureka almost always had the upper hand.
The maroon and gold exchanged lead off home runs in the first inning, with Chelsea Ashlock putting the Beavers on the board on the first at-bat of the game and Payne answering with a blast to center in the bottom half. It was the fourth home run of the season for the EC junior.
The following inning, Sanders was hit by a pitch and Savage singled to put two on, setting up Tibbetts for a three-run shot to center field.
It was the senior's first dinger in a Red Devil uniform and it put the team up 4-1. Savage's RBI double to center in the third gave EC a 6-1 advantage.
The Beavers came back with two in the fourth, chasing Tibbetts from the circle. Sidney Wightman took over for Tibbetts after 3 1/3 innings and proceeded to get an unconventional save.
The junior conceded four runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings without giving up the lead, giving her a SLIAC-leading three saves on the season.
Blackburn trimmed the lead to one run with a five-run fifth, but Eureka came back with a two-run double by Savage that made it 8-5.
Both teams plated a run in the sixth on sac flies, with Payne airing out hers to right field to score Christine Mepham (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais) and give EC a three-run edge heading into the seventh.
The visitors scored one more run on a wild pitch in the seventh before grounding out to end it.
Savage led the way at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs. It was her first three-hit game of her EC career and the first time she has ever doubled twice in the same game. After the game, she said she's been in a slump recently, but that listening to her coaches and teammates helped her work her way out of it.
Heinz added two hits and contributed the defensive highlight of the day when she laid her body out to make a diving catch in center field and strand two runners in the third inning.
"It's my last year, so I might as well go all-out," Heinz said with a laugh. "That hurt a little bit, but I caught it, so it was worth it."
Another notable moment for the Red Devils was Mepham's first collegiate double in the sixth inning.
Heading into the SLIAC Tournament, the Red Devils are now 8-15 on the season and 4-7 in a SLIAC season that was abbreviated by spells of COVID-19 protocols and inclement weather.
The team will learn its postseason pairing after this weekend's conference games conclude.
"It was nice that we finally broke out of the spell that we've been in," Ledbetter said. "I think we're going to go to the tournament and just take it one game at a time and play really well as a team."