NORMAL - The matchup was nothing new, yet the mindset was Monday night for Olympia's Kaylee West when she stepped to the plate against University High's Kellie Kinsella.
The two had squared off frequently in Corn Belt Conference play, and West said, "She usually strikes me out." Still, West was thinking positively in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 4-4 game.
"I was like, 'You know, this time is going to be different,' " she said.
With a runner at second and one out, West pulled a sharp grounder into the hole between third base and shortstop. The ball skipped off the shortstop's glove into short left field, and Clinton's Mandy Monkman raced home with the winning run as the Area nipped the Intercity, 5-4, in the 13th annual Pantagraph All-Star High School Softball Game at Champion Fields.
"I just had a better outlook going up there," said West, who capped her best game versus Kinsella, going 3 for 3 with three RBI to earn the Carrie Jetton Most Valuable Player award. "I just wanted to make contact. I wanted to step up for my team."
Monkman set up the rally with a one-out double. It appeared the drive to left field might be a walk-off home run, but hit the fence.
"I thought it was (going out)," Monkman said. "It felt really good off the bat. But it doesn't matter because we won. Kaylee was hitting amazing, so I was like, 'OK, we have her up and then another girl behind her (Prairie Central's Kendra Branch) who can hit.' I knew it was going to be done."
Area coach George VanWinkle of Tri-Valley was confident with West at the plate as well, saying, "Kaylee had been hitting the ball well all night. I knew she'd make contact."
When the ball glanced off the glove of Normal West shortstop Megan Nelson and toward the left-field line, VanWinkle had to decide quickly whether or not to send Monkman home.
"For a split second, I thought, 'Play it safe.' But then I said, 'It's an All-Star game. We're going for it,' " he said. "I had the right wheels at second. Mandy is fast, and I wanted to make them make a play."
The exciting finish gave the Area a 7-6 lead in the series, and made a winner of Prairie Central's Paige Sinnett. Sinnett blanked the Intercity on one hit over the final three innings, striking out four and walking one.
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West started in the circle for the Area, allowing four runs (three earned) in three innings. The Intercity managed only two hits the rest of the way against Heyworth's Jackie Gill, Streator's Lyndi Araujo and Sinnett.
"We scored early, but then with them changing pitchers every couple of innings, it offset the timing a little bit," said Intercity coach Mark Demboski of Central Catholic. "Our girls battled. We actually had some more chances to score. We challenged (the Area) to make some plays and they were up to the task."
The Intercity took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first on an RBI fielder's choice grounder by Bloomington's Shelby Parker, a run-scoring groundout by U High's Ashton Hitchcock and an RBI single from Normal Community's Allison Ward.
The Area countered with two in the bottom of the inning on a leadoff double by Olympia's Lindsay Watkins, an Intercity error and a two-run double from West.
The Intercity made it 4-2 in the third when Bloomington's Beth Current reached on a bizarre fielder's choice on a ball she hit off the left-field fence, moved to second on a Parker single, went to third on an error and scored on a wild pitch.
The Area cut the deficit to 4-3 in the fifth on Branch's RBI single, and pulled even in the sixth when Blue Ridge's Melissa Jones walked, moved up on a single by Gill and later scored on a wild pitch.
Kinsella was the lone Intercity pitcher on the roster for the nine-inning, seniors-only game. She allowed nine hits, walked six and struck out five.
"I was a little sore to begin with because I threw three games yesterday (Sunday)," Kinsella said. "But it (her arm) felt pretty good. When I got the crowd around me, all of the nerves shook off after the first inning."
Demboski said he and his staff considered walking West in the ninth, but decided, "It's an All-Star game. We're going to let Kellie take her best shot at her. She made a nice pitch. She (West) is just a real good hitter."
"I knew she was going to put it in play," Kinsella said. "We just had to make the play, but we couldn't quite come up with it."
Parker was the lone Intercity player with more than one hit, going 2 for 4 and scoring a run. She singled in the eighth off Sinnett and was at third with two outs when Dani Jacobs of U High laid down a bunt. Monkman hopped out from behind the plate and narrowly threw out Jacobs at first to end the threat.
Area pitchers allowed two hits, struck out six and walked one over the final six innings.
"I knew we had good pitching coming in," said VanWinkle, who is retiring after 19 seasons at Tri-Valley. "It was just a matter of some early inning jitters maybe. Once we got that out of the way and settled in, we were OK."