NORMAL - The Area was hoping to get off to a good start in Monday's 14th annual Pantagraph All-Star Softball Game. Nobody could have seen this coming, though. | Photo gallery
The Area built a 14-0 lead after 2½ innings and held off a comeback by the short-handed Intercity to claim a 14-7 victory at sunny Champion Fields.
"You furnished me with a good squad - a very talented squad," Area and Tremont High School coach Harry Eeten said of his team, which was selected by the Pantagraph sports staff.
The Intercity only had 10 available players and sorely missed Normal Community pitching ace Amber May, who led the Ironmen to the Class AA state championship last weekend. May is undergoing knee surgery Wednesday and was unable to play.
"Amber May would have made a big impact," said Intercity third baseman-catcher Meg McCormick of Normal West.
The Area batted around in a five-run first inning after its first six hitters reached base against Intercity starter Stephanie Butler of Bloomington. Hartsburg-Emden's Chelsey Rankin had a two-run single to highlight the rally.
"We knew we needed to get a good jump on them from the start," said Area right fielder Amanda Sartoris of Pontiac. "After we got rolling we were having some fun like we were supposed to. It turned out good."
After making it 6-0 in the second, the Area broke the game open with an eight-run third. The Area collected seven hits in the inning, including a three-run homer by Sartoris, who went 2-for-4 with four RBI to earn the Carrie Jetton Most Valuable Player award.
"It was an inside pitch," Sartoris said of her blast over the left field fence. "I usually don't go for those, but I wanted that one. It felt sweet off the bat. I could tell. It feels great to win and do it with some of my school teammates."
Starter and winning pitcher Kelli Humbert of Dwight combined on a five-hitter with GCMS' Carley Kemmer and the Pontiac duo of Elizabeth Lorrance and Emily Tesdal. The game was shortened to seven innings because the Intercity ran out of pitchers.
"They came ready to play," Eeten said. "They all performed very well. What else can you ask? (Getting the early lead) got them into a comfort zone. They felt good about themselves and relaxed."
The Area also received two hits from Mahomet-Seymour's Lauryn Ohl, Ridgeview's Brianne Ghere and Rankin. Ohl drove in three runs, and Ghere scored three times while driving in a run. The Area finished with 13 hits in posting its second straight win in the series.
"It was an experience that I'll never forget," Ohl said. "It was big honor to play in this game. It was a little awkward coming into the game not knowing anybody, but as we went along and everybody started hitting it just brought us together."
McCormick's grand slam to left capped a five-run uprising in the bottom of the third that got the Intercity on the board.
"It was a 3-2 count so (Kemmer) had to make a good pitch if she didn't want to walk me and it was just right there," McCormick.
McCormick, a Wisconsin-Parkside recruit, also had an RBI single in the fourth. Butler went 2-for-4 and scored two runs.
"They only scored in the first three innings so we held them for four," McCormick said. "We came around in the end and came together. It was cool because we've all played together in the summer. We had a lot of fun."
Jenna Ioerger of Normal West, who was listed as an outfielder, relieved Butler in the third and allowed only one unearned run in 1 1/3 innings. Streator's Kaitlyn Ralph came on in the fifth for the Intercity and blanked the Area over the final three innings.
"I knew (Ioerger) she could throw in a pinch and she did a great job stepping in," said Intercity coach Murray Hynes of BHS. "That's the nice thing about these girls. They love the game. You can put them anywhere and they'll do a good job.
"A lot of these girls had a huge impact on softball in the state of Illinois, and it was an honor and pleasure to be associated with them. They showed tonight they'll do whatever you ask them to do and keep their heads high."