MARION — For players like catcher Natalie Wideman, the next three months are some of the most important of their softball lives.

Not only are Wideman and her teammates playing 47 games in National Pro Fastpitch with the newly-formed Canadian Wild of Southern Illinois, they’re also vying for spots on their country’s team for the Pan Am Games in July and an Olympic qualifier in late August.

So at-bats like the one Wideman had in the second inning of Saturday night’s 6-2 loss to the USSSA Pride at Rent One Park helped her team and might have helped her take a small step towards ultimately representing her country in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

With the bases loaded and one out, Wideman laced a two-run single to left-center off Jalyn Ford, giving the Wild a 2-1 lead. It scored Jenny Gilbert and Janet Leung, and appeared to start the Wild off towards their ninth straight win to start the season.

“It was a big moment for us to take the lead in that situation,” said Wideman. “I kept a level head and said, ‘It’s a privilege to be up here and in the box in this spot.’ We want to peak at the right time, but we want to win, finish games and come out on top. I guess it’s kind of 50-50.”

The 27-year old Wideman, who was named the NCAA Division II Catcher of the Year following her senior season in 2014 at California (Pa.) University, helped Canada earn a gold medal in the 2015 Pan Am Games held in Toronto.

Her clutch hit was the only big hit the Wild managed on this night, a stark contrast to their 6-0 and 5-4 wins over the Pride in the series’ first two games. The Wild (8-1) stranded seven runners in the first five innings and went hitless after Larissa Franklin’s bunt single with one out in the fourth.

“You try to take every win or loss and learn from it,” Wideman said. “There’s going to be points where you like what you did in a situation and build on it, and there are going to be points where you want to change what you did in a situation.

“You just move on and work on it in practice so that you’re ready for the next situation.”

While the Wild fizzled with runners on base, the Pride found ways to get their runners home. They scored in every inning but the second and fifth, putting the game away late with two runs in the sixth and one more in the seventh.

Consecutive two-out doubles by Nicole DeWitt and Megan Wiggins erased the Wild’s short-lived lead in the third. An infield out by Nicole Pendley made it 3-2 Pride in the fourth, and Allexis Bennett’s two-run single to left-center in the sixth upped the margin to 5-2.

The Wild couldn’t touch a pair of highly-decorated NCAA stars of recent vintage over the last three innings. Washington product Taran Alvelo, who was clocked at 71 mph, and two-time Women’s College World Series champ Paige Parker (Oklahoma) fired three hitless innings to preserve Jalyn Ford’s win.

“We had a couple of opportunities to break the game open a little bit and couldn’t do it,” Wild coach Mark Smith said. “Credit to them. They’re a very good team, and if you make mistakes against them, they’re going to take advantage of it.”

The crowd was just 791, a number that might have been held down by late-afternoon rain which delayed the game’s start by 14 minutes. The first two games of the series drew just over 4,000 fans total, including an opening night crowd of around 2,700.

Wideman and her teammates are enjoying their time in the area.

“This stadium is awesome,” she said. “We love having the facilities at SIU and the people couldn’t be nicer. I’m excited to be here and play ball.”

The series continues at 5:05 p.m. Sunday and concludes with a 6:35 p.m. start on Monday night.

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