CARBONDALE — Marion softball coach Joy Neal compared the shocking end of her team’s season to March Madness.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re ranked or how you come in,” she said.
Thought by many to be a team capable of getting to the Class 3A semifinals next month, the Wildcats instead went one-and-done in the postseason. Massac County pitcher Cali McCraw snapped a ninth inning tie with an RBI double and then stranded the potential tying run at second to seal a wild 7-6 win at the Superblock.
The Patriots (16-9) will meet Carbondale for the regional title Friday at 4:30 p.m. after the Terriers eliminated Murphysboro 9-4 in the nightcap.
After Marion (21-4) stormed back from a 6-0 fifth inning deficit to score three times in the seventh, it loaded the bases with one out. But McCraw, a 6-2 sophomore who in March scored a 5-3 victory over the Wildcats in Metropolis, used a fielder’s choice grounder and flyout to force extra softball.
In the ninth, McCraw gave herself the winning run as she laced a 1-1 pitch to left-center to score pinch-runner Kennedy Burgess, who reached second one offering earlier on a wild pitch.
“They had been throwing me inside all game, so I anticipated it,” McCraw said. “Once the wild pitch got her to scoring position, it made me want to drive her in even more.”
In the bottom of the ninth, McCraw gave up her 14th hit of the day, Karris Rhine’s fourth single. Tori Evans’ sacrifice bunt moved the tying run to scoring position, but a line-out and bouncer to third polished off the upset.
After her 130th pitch finished off the game, McCraw somehow found the energy to jump up and down twice in front of the circle.
“I was probably happier in my mind than I was showing,” she said, grinning. “Because we had worked so hard for the seniors. I wanted to win for them.”
Massac County started out the year at 7-1, McCraw capping that stretch by silencing Harrisburg’s potent lineup on April 2 for a 6-3 win in Harrisburg. But pectoral and bicep injuries cost McCraw about a month of playing time and turned the Patriots from elite into ordinary.
However, a healthier McCraw makes them a threat. Team her up with a potent offense and a defense which didn’t make an error Tuesday, and you have a squad capable of making the kind of run Marion figured to.
“Massac came out ready to go and we weren’t mentally there in the beginning,” Neal said.
In the second semifinal, Carbondale (18-9) took charge in the third inning with a five-run outburst. Kate Crombar highlighted it by belting her 14th homer of the year, a two-run shot over the 210-foot mark in center field.
Murphysboro (23-12) pulled within 5-2 in the fourth and had the bases loaded, but Madison Galloway relieved and shut down the Red Devils. She induced a groundout to quell the threat, then worked into the seventh to earn the victory.
Meanwhile, Megan Bily provided insurance in the sixth. One pitch after a potential two-run double down the left field line was called foul, Bily looped a two-run, two-out single to left-center.
“What a trooper she has been,” Terriers coach Kim Wheeler said of Bily. “She’s a kid you want to have around. She stays after practice, she says thank you to the coaches. I’m glad she could help keep it going for us.”
Savannah Talley laced an RBI double to right-center in the seventh and Claire Beaupre beat out an infield hit to plate the final run.
Malorie Gill went 3 for 4 for Murphysboro, which returns seven starters next year.