OSSIAN—If Bellmont softball player Brieann Burkhalter was a cat, it would be safe to assume she used up many of her nine lives Saturday afternoon as the Bellmont Squaws rallied to capture the IHSAA sectional 22 in class 3A play at Norwell High School over the Peru Tigers by a 7-3 score in 10 innings.
The victory for the defending Norwell sectional champions means the Squaws will host Western High School in the IHSAA regional tonight at the BHS diamond.
Burkhalter went the entire distance on the mound for the Braves and although she was touched for 10 hits by the Tigers, she worked her way out of several jams, none of which was as tough as the one she faced in the bottom of the eighth with the score tied at 3-3.
Mercedes Ambrose reached base on the error and Peru then sacrificed her to second. Courtney Kauffman walked and Krystenn McBride topped an infield grounder. The throw to third for a force was late thus loading the sacks for Peru. That brought Stephanie Swinford to the plate, a batter who had been a thorn in Burkhalter's side all day long going four-for-four to that point with three singles and a triple. Burkhalter buckled down and got Swinford to pop up and finished the frame when Katie Guntle grounded weakly back to the mound.
Peru threatened in the seventh as Swinford singled and was sacrificed to second by Guntle. Jordan Blackman sharply singled to left field but Squaw outfield Taylor Kuhnle charged the ball and fired a strike back to the infield forcing Peru coach Jessica Mast to hold Swinford at third.
With clean-up hitter Kassidy Bush at bat, Peru opted to let her hit away and her pop up was easily snared by Mikala Quinn at short and Bellmont against had new life as Michelle Struble flied out to Lauren Bowman in centerfield.
"I knew I had to get the job done. I had to step up and get it done for my teammates. The defense played well behind me today," noted Burkhalter in analyzing the Bellmont win.
The Bellmont offense broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the sixth as with one out Kuhnle clubbed her second straight double of the game. Sara Williamson grounded to third but the throw to first sailed over the first baseman's head to the fence allowing Kuhnle to come across with a run for the first BHS lead of the game at 3-2.
Burkhalter had a role in the first Bellmont run scored in the fourth as she smacked a double and scored with two outs on Kuhnle's RBI double.
Payton Schultz led off the fifth frame with a walk and Janelle Lopez came in as a pinch runner. When a pitch to Jessica Lee was mishandled by the catcher, Lopez momentarily hesitated but made a break for second and was ruled safe. That was a key play as Lee singled to right on an 0-2 count and Lopez was waved home.
It appeared the throw was going to be in time to catch Lopez, but her slide evaded the tag and made it a 2-2 game.
Bellmont was within one pitch of winning in regulation but Peru's Kauffman spanked an outside 0-2 pitch for a single with two outs in the bottom of the sixth that scored Ambrose after the Peru sophomore had doubled with one out earlier in the inning.
In the tenth, Lee walked on a 3-1 count and moved to second on Quinn's sacrifice bunt. What proved to be the winning run was then recorded by Lee as Burkhalter drilled a RBI single to center and the ball was momentarily mishandled by the outfielder. Dana Kaczmarek reached base as the second baseman threw her ground ball past the first baseman and Burkhalter scored for a 5-3 edge. Kuhnle worked Meeks for a walk and Sara Williamson's double to to center scored Kaczmarek. Schultz's ground out to second pushed in the final BHS run of the inning.
BHS Coach Burkhalter said he knew the Squaws had the capability of winning the sectional and noted "we lost five games this year by one run. We knew if we came out and played competitively, we could do it. Dana (Kaczmarek) did a whale of a job behind the plate and called every single pitch of the game.
Burkhalter also noted "Peru had not been scored on in this tournament until they play us. They had shutout Norwell and Wayne (the latter by a 4-0 score earlier on Saturday). Peru plays a tough schedule but the NHC play prepares us for this type of game. I'm proud of how we stayed with it and came back to win."