MARION — Rivalry games don't always live up to their billing, but this one certainly did.
The Marion High School softball team remained unbeaten in the South Seven Conference with a dramatic 6-5 walkoff win over rival Carbondale in eight innings Tuesday evening at the Crisp Sports Complex.
Marion improved to 12-1 overall and 3-0 in the South Seven with the victory, while Carbondale dropped to 11-3 and 3-2.
The game ended with freshman Abbi Sherrard scorching a grounder to third base that was misplayed and brought in Tori Evans for the winning run.
Sherrard has displayed a flair for the dramatic since joining the varsity lineup recently. She also drove in the go-ahead run in a win against Herrin last week.
"Abbi is hot right now," said Marion coach Joy Neal. "We had been trying to figure out ways to get her in the lineup and she's been successful and clawed her way through there. She's worked for it and now she's got a spot in the lineup."
The winning rally started with Tori Evans blooping a single into center field, then Karris Rhine worked a walk and Kaylee Evans came up with everyone in town knowing she was going to bunt.
With some pullbacks, Kaylee Evans eventually worked a 3-1 count and then indeed dropped a perfect bunt that ended up as an infield single and loaded the bases with her younger sister, Tori, now at third base.
Sherrard had two strikes on her but made solid contact to bring in the winning run.
"I just told the girls that if this doesn't hurt, then you're not cut out for this," said Carbondale coach Kim Wheeler. "Marion is a good ballclub, but we're a good ballclub too. So we just have to play better."
The Terriers couldn't have gotten off to a better start. Savannah Talley, the game's first batter, launched a home run into the howling wind gusts and onto the tennis courts where Marion was taking on Belleville Althoff in a dual match.
Claire Beaupre, who was celebrating a birthday, then followed with the first of her three hits. But Marion hurler Ivy Smart got a popup, strikeout and groundout to escape further damage.
"That was a settling in phase," Neal joked. "I think after that Ivy got into a groove and we figured things out and adjusted."
Marion tied it in the bottom half after Hannah Nalley singled and scored on a double by Morgan Andrews, then went up in the second after Rhine singled and scored on an error produced by Sherrard.
Beaupre doubled and scored on a hit by Katie Crombar in the third, then after Carbondale went up in the fourth with the help of a Madison Galloway double, the Lady Wildcats tied it on a two-run double from Heaven Lawrence in the bottom half.
"It was just a well-fought game," Neal said. "We were able to tie it up and score in situations when we needed it. And we were able to buckle down on defense."
Galloway homered in the sixth to put the Terriers ahead briefly. In Marion's half, Kaylee Evans was hit by a pitch and later scored on a hit by Keira Hance to knot it back at 5-5.
"I thought Madison did a really good job," Wheeler said. "We talked about having a game plan and she did exactly what we needed her to do. Defensively we had some mistakes and we've got to make better plays."
Rhine, a freshman, made two highlight-reel catches in left field in the seventh inning to keep Carbondale from mounting a rally. In the eighth, Smart struck out both Galloway and Brooke Williard to give her four for the game and set up the ending.
"We never got down," Neal said. "These girls are there for each other. We've said several times this year that this really feels like a sisterhood. If one person is down, the next person behind them is going to pick them up and produce for them."
Marion, whose lone loss came against Massac County, is scheduled for South Seven games against Cahokia with a home doubleheader on Thursday before playing in the tough Nashville Invitational on Saturday.
The rematch at Carbondale is scheduled for May 7.
Galloway and Talley. Smart and T.Evans. WP — Smart. LP — Galloway. Top hitters — Carbondale: Claire Beaupre 3-4, Madison Galloway 2-3 (HR, 2 BI), Savannah Talley 1-4 (HR, BI). Marion: Tori Evans 2-4. Records — Carbondale 11-3, 3-2 in the South Seven. Marion 12-1, 3-0.