Over the course of a season, small things add up. But when big things — big negative things — happen, it can prove to be too much to handle.
The Wilton softball team dealt with a relentless schedule, one that featured in-conference powers like West Liberty and Durant as well as other highly ranked opponents from all classes. That is why the battle-tested Beavers remained ranked in Class 2A throughout the season, despite a record that might suggest otherwise.
As the season came to a close, the Beavers (18-20) were dealt two monumental blows when Chloe Wells, one of most-feared hitters in their lineup, and ace pitcher Mila Johnson were forced out for the remainder of the season due to injuries.
It was too much to overcome during Wednesday night’s Class 2A regional, as the Beavers’ season ended with a 6-3 loss to Pekin (18-13) in Wilton.
“We had two of our top players go out,” Wilton head coach Kortney Denkman said, “so we had to have some younger girls step in … and it is what it is. It was a learning experience.”
Pekin’s biggest hit came early. With two runners already on to start the top of the second inning, Panther second baseman Ericka Coleman drove a pitch to deep left center for a three-run home run.
After Wilton recorded the first out, Pekin’s Kylie Davis added another extra-base hit, this time a double, and was eventually driven in by leadoff hitter Emilee Linder on a sacrifice fly to right. The second inning ended with Pekin taking a 4-0 lead.
“I told (Coleman) to keep a level swing,” Pekin head coach Shelby Atwood said of the home run, “I noticed our first couple batters were dropping (their) back shoulders — we had a lot of pop-ups — and (we) came through with hits … and she kept that level swing and drove it, that’s what we needed.”
Wilton got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third when leadoff hitter Mallory Lange drove a pitch to the right-field gap. Lange would have been safe at third for a triple, but an errant Panther throw allowed Lange to round all the bases and score, making it a 4-1 game.
The Beavers held the Panthers in check for the next three innings, but Pekin scored again in the top of the sixth when Linder drove in Allie Bainbridge with an RBI single that made it through the Beaver infield.
In the bottom of the sixth, Wilton’s Ella Caffery drew a one-out walk but that’s all the Beavers could muster in their half inning at bat.
Pekin added another run in the seventh after center fielder Zoey Wright doubled and was driven in on a sacrifice fly to center by catcher Emi Zook, making it a 6-1 contest going into Wilton’s make-or-break seventh.
In the bottom, the Beavers did not go down easily. Emi Coss reached on an error — an infield fly that dropped between three Pekin fielders — with one out already in the books, which brought up the top of the Wilton order. Lange and Kortney Drake (the lone Beaver senior on the team) both singled to load the bases before Payton Ganzer drew a walk to bring in Coss and keep runners on all bases.
The next Beaver batter, Taylor Garvin, drove a pitch to deep center, but it landed in the glove of Pekin’s Wright. However, the fly ball scored a run, which made it 6-3, but ultimately Wilton couldn’t bring any more runners across.
“We didn’t give up,” Denkman said, “we had that mentality that we were going to fight to the very, very end.
“It’s not great that I lose Kortney Drake, who’s a phenomenal player, but (we) bring back almost everyone. Eight of the nine starters are back (next season) … we’re going to rebuild from this, we’re going to learn from this and we’re going to come ready and hungry next year.”