PIASA — For two innings the Southwestern Piasa Birds owned the Roxana Shells Monday.
The result was a 15-5 win for the Birds in the Class 2A Southwestern Regional play-in game in six innings, ending Roxana's season. The Shells closed the 2016 campaign at 12-21, while Southwestern improved to 8-16. The No. 8 seeded Piasa Birds advance to meet No. 2 seed Dupo at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Overall it was a lopsided ending, but 13 of Southwestern's 15 runs came in two innings — the second and the sixth. The Piasa Birds also accrued 12 of their 14 hits in the second and the sixth. Southwestern marched 11 hitters to the dish in the second and 10 more in the sixth to send the Shells home early.
“You've got to give them credit the way they swung the bats,” Roxana head coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “Against (Hannah) Rexford they did a nice job just making contact and putting the ball in play and in the last inning they adjusted to Phoebe's (Booher) offspeed stuff and stayed back and did a nice job. We've played them three times and they've handled us three times. They're a good team, there's no doubt about it.”
Sophomore pitcher Hannah Rexford worked her way back from a broken tailbone to get the nod in the circle Monday.
Southwestern head coach Peg Mitchell commended Rexford's toughness for playing in the game. It left the Piasa Birds a little hesitant entering the contest.
“I think it made us a little nervous that Rexford was back,” Mitchell said. “At the same time I told them, 'Yeah she's back, but she hasn't thrown.' I told them don't be afraid to take a pitch, to wait for their pitch and they made her throw pitches... and they did a great job.
“Kudos to her. She could have easily said, 'I'm still hurt. I'm not coming back.' But she stepped up and pitched for her team and that's a compliment to her.”
Maybe the biggest downfall for the Shells was their inability to take advantage of an early opportunity. They loaded the bases in the top of the first with one out, but were unable to score. Abi Stahlhut led off with a single, Abby Palen hit a one-out double and Alexis Counts coaxed a walk, but Roxana couldn't capitalize.
“We had the bases loaded in the first inning and we needed a big hit and we didn't get it,” Arbuthnot said. “We just never got that big hit that could put us on top by two or three runs.”
Southwestern nabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, but it was the second where the Birds really took flight.
The Piasa Birds marched 11 to the plate and scored seven runs to go up 8-0. Haley Edwards led off the inning with a single, one of six hits for Southwestern in the frame. Mallory Novack had the biggest hit, a double to left field.
The offensive splash by the Piasa Birds prompted Arbuthnot to lift Rexford and turn to Phoebe Booher. Booher anchored the pitching for the Shells during Rexford's absence and seemed to settle her team back down on Monday.
Roxana slowly clawed its way back in the game with four runs in the fourth to whittle the deficit to 8-4.
Ashley Betts got it going with a one-out single and Sam Sherer reached on a fielder's choice to put two on. After the second out, Stahlhut reached via error allowing Betts to score. Hits from Rexford and Palen, along with a Southwestern throwing error let the next three runs score for the Shells.
The Piasa Birds pushed it to 9-4 with a run in the bottom of the fourth, but Booher helped herself out in the fifth, leading off with a solo homer to left field to make it 9-5.
Arbuthnot was happy to see his squad fight back from the deep deficit.
“We battled back, we didn't quit,” Arbuthnot said. “We got down 8-0, got it to 8-4, 9-5, our kids didn't quit, but the last inning, it just snowballed from there and it was a good job they did at the plate.”
The sixth inning saw the Birds send 10 more batters to the dish and score six more runs to put the finishing touches on a six-inning win. Sydney Ambruso supplied the exclamation point with a two-run double to walk it off for Southwestern.
“It would be nice if we did that every inning,” Mitchell said with a chuckle.
Now the test will get a little tougher with Dupo on Wednesday, but Mitchell said that doesn't concern the Piasa Birds.
“Our main concern for our team is what we do,” Mitchell said. “We call it Bird Ball and if we play Bird Ball we can beat anybody.”
CLASS 2A SOUTHWESTERN REGIONAL
SOUTHWESTERN 15, ROXANA 5, SIX INNINGS
Shells 000 410 X — 5 12 2
Piasa Birds 170 106 X — 15 14 3
Roxana (12-21) — Abi Stahlhut 2-4, Hannah Rexford 3-4 RBI, Abby Palen 2-4 2B RBI, Phoebe Booher 2-4 HR RBI, Shelbie Jackson 1-4, Ashley Betts 1-3, Sam Sherer 1-3.
LP — Rexford 2.0IP 7H 8R 8ER 2BB 5K 1HBP
Booher 4.0IP 7H 7R 7ER 3BB 1K
Southwestern (8-16) — Bailee Stahl 1-5 RBI, Molly Novack 2-4 2 RBIs, Sydney Ambruso 3-4 2 2Bs 2 RBIs, Hannah Inman 1-4 RBI, Emily Wolff 1-2 RBI, Mallory Novack 2-3 2B 2 RBIs, Haley Edwards 2-3 RBI, Whitney Runyon 1-4 RBI, Mackenzie Wolff 1-4.
WP — Stahl 6.0IP 12H 5R 1ER 1BB 5K