ATHENS — There were plenty of Piasa Southwestern baserunners during Monday's Class 2A Athens Softball Super-Sectional. Olympia High School pitcher Kaelyn Leverson wasn't too stressed about it.
"I know my defense has my back," said the Spartans' junior left-hander. "Whatever I throw I know they're going to field it and do what they need to do and get the job done."
Olympia did just that as Southwestern stranded 11. The Spartans used a three-run uprising in the fifth inning to break a 1-all tie and went on to a 4-1 victory over Southwestern.
The win gave Olympia its first trip to the state finals since 2009 when it won a third title. The Spartans, who improved to 27-7, face Pinckneyville in a semifinal game at 5:30 p.m. Friday at EastSide Centre in East Peoria.
Olympia coach Courtney Hoffman said "we're always preaching that tradition" to her players.
"We have a lot of alumni that come around and are still part of the program. They're always around and our girls see that," said Hoffman. "Two years ago it was a big deal for us to win the regional championship again. Now, obviously, our goals are a little loftier."
The Spartans' lone senior, catcher Alexis Finchum, had tears of joy in her eyes.
"It's amazing. I can't even put it into words," she said. "I'm so excited."
Southwestern (24-3) took a 1-0 lead on an unearned run off Leverson in the second. But the Birds had a runner thrown out at the plate and another caught in a rundown to end the inning.
Olympia quickly responded. Sydnee Usherwood led off the bottom of the second against Bailee Nixon with a double. One out later, Leverson sharply singled up the middle to score Usherwood.
Southwestern had baserunners every inning, but Leverson pitched around the trouble. She gave up 10 hits while walking one and striking out three.
"We've done that all year long. We practiced with runners in scoring position and not having anxiety about it," said Hoffman. "You can just tell on our fielders' faces and our pitcher's face it's, like, we've got this. There's never any pressure on us. We just go out and play."
When Southwestern dropped a pop fly by Mariah Maris to start the fifth, the Spartans took advantage.
Chloe Scroggins followed with a walk and Elizabeth Davis, who had three of Olympia's six hits, reached on a perfect bunt to load the bases. Maris scored on a wild pitch to give Olympia a 2-1 lead.
The next two hitters, Alexis and Katelyn Finchum, delivered sacrifice flies to score a run each.
"We didn't know this team at all," said Alexis Finchum. "We said our first at- bats see what she was throwing and what the umpire was giving us, and then go from there. Once we had those bases loaded and we were hitting, we knew we had it."
Southwestern, which lost the 2009 Class 2A and 2003 Class A championship games to Olympia, knew it had plenty of chances.
"The difference in this game was timely hitting," said Southwestern coach Peg Mitchell. "We outhit them and they got the hits whenever they needed them. That's what you take away from this game, understanding when we come back next year that's the focus."
The focus now for Olympia is to add to the school's haul of softball hardware, which also includes a pair of second-place trophies.
"At the beginning of the year our coach got a bucket of seeds and wrote June 2 on it," said Leverson. "That was our goal, to get to June 2. Now we get to and it's awesome."