Metamora High School softball
East Peoria freshman pitcher Sarah Finck beat Metamora three times this season.
The Redbirds overcame the first two losses and won the Mid-Illini Conference.
The third one was more crucial.
The Raiders beat the Redbirds 4-2 Wednesday in the Ottawa Sectional semifinal, ending Metamora’s season.
Finck allowed just five hits and did not walk any batters in the victory, which gave East Peoria its first Sectional win in school history. The Raiders lost to LaSalle Peru in the Sectional final Saturday and finished the season with a 33-6 record.
“She’s (Finck) a very talented young lady,” said Metamora coach Deric Linder. “She might be the best pitcher in this area.”
Metamora (29-8) had runners on second and third base with one out in the bottom of the seventh, but sophomore Erica Phillips grounded out to third base and senior Paige Garber struck out to end the game.
“Paige is a wonderful kid, and she has been a great player for us during her career here. She’s the one I would want up in that situation. It just didn’t work out that time,” Linder said. “She has nothing to hang her head about. She’s a state champion, and she should be proud.”
Metamora, the defending Class 3A state champs, fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first inning after the first three East Peoria batters reached base.
Erica Harper led off with an infield single. Finck laid down a bunt that rolled in between Metamora pitcher Cori Maloney and Garber (first baseman) for an infield single. Kelsey Hansen walked to load the bases.
Maloney struck out Nicole Montgomery looking for the first out.
Andrea Bury hit a grounded out to second base for the second out, but one run scored.
With runners on second and third, Maloney threw a pitch in the dirt. East Peoria batter Kelsey Shoemake inadvertently kicked the ball to the side when she was trying to get out of the way, and the ball rolled away from Metamora catcher Katelyn Alig, and another run scored to make it 2-0.
A wild pitch over Alig’s head brought in another run before Maloney got Savanna Tapper to fly out for the final out of the inning.
Finck retired Metamora in order in the bottom of the first inning with an assortment of “drop” pitches and hard fastballs.
“We talked about two things before the game. We wanted to keep them from having a big inning, and we wanted to avoid swinging at that first pitch drop ball,” Linder said. “But, we allowed too many runs in the first, and we didn’t have good swings on our end either.”
Maloney pitched around a leadoff single in the top of the second inning. Phillips led off the Redbirds’ half of the second with a single, but Finck retired the next three batters in order.
Hansen walked to lead off the third inning.
Montgomery moved her to second with a sacrifice bunt, and Bury drove her in with a single up the middle to make it 4-0.
The game stayed at 4-0 until the bottom of the fourth inning.
Metamora junior Molly Cull hit a one-out triple off the left field fence and Phillips drove her in with a ground out to second to make it 4-1.
Junior Kasey Kanaga was hit by a pitch with one out in the bottom of the sixth. She advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from junior Hayden Filson, but the inning ended when Cull grounded out to shortstop. Cull hustled down the line, but was narrowly thrown out on a very close play.
Phillips led off the bottom of the seventh inning with an infield single. Sophomore Kyler Samp followed with a ground ball to second base (East Peoria got the force out at second for the first out).
Alig hit a single to put runners on first and second with one out.
Freshman Abby Barrow hit a pinch-hit single to drive in a run and make it 4-2.
Finck then got Phillips and Garber out to end the game.
“Metamora is such a good team. You knew they were going to put up a fight at the end, and that’s what they did,” said East Peoria coach Deb Neff. “You have to give Sarah (Finck) credit. She’s so confident and competitive. Not your typical freshman.”
The loss ended the career for Metamora’s four seniors (Garber, Maloney, Jenny Beaver and Alex Helmick).
Maloney, who will play for Illinois Central College next year, finished the season with a 26-8 record.
“Cori battled out there,” Linder said. “After that first inning, she was really tough to hit.”
Linder said the loss was not the end of the world, considering that the Redbirds are such a young team.
“We are very young. We had a few sophomores and a freshman out there today,” he said. “And, many of our starters are juniors. Those players are only going to get better.”