SYCAMORE – A signature win seemed to be shaping up for the young Hampshire softball team in the top of the seventh inning of Monday’s Class 3A Sycamore Regional quarterfinal against Sycamore.
The Whip-Purs came back from a three-run deficit in the seventh inning, with RBI hits from Becca Hurst, Jen Hurst and Aly Snider giving them an one-run lead.
But Sycamore’s three shallow hits to right-center field in the bottom of the seventh sank Hampshire, 9-8, to close out the Whips’ season.
“We just couldn’t shut them down in the seventh,” coach Stacey Stepek said. “Those little bloop fly balls that dropped in for hits have been our downfall all year. That’s what we lost a couple of games on. Hopefully, we learn from that and are able to catch those up next year.”
Sycamore (14-18) took an early lead with a two-run home run from Brittany Huber, and the Spartans looked as if they might pull away with the bases loaded in the second inning with one out. But pitcher Jen Hurst was able to shut down the Spartans down with runners on base.
Hampshire (11-19) took a 3-2 lead in the third inning when Jordan Hook drove in Haley Widmayer with a ground-rule double before Becca Hurst drove her in with a double of her own.
With the score tied, 4-4, the Spartans tacked on two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to take a 7-4 lead, but the Whip-Purs, who have only two seniors, weren’t done.
Widmayer started Hampshire’s seventh-inning rally with a single, and Hook followed with another single with no outs before they were driven in by the middle of the Whip-Purs’ order.
Sycamore was down to its final strike, but Taylor Jones mustered a weak hit to shallow right field to drive in two runs.
Falling after rallying made the loss sting a little bit more, but Stepek hopes the resilience her team showed will carry over to next season.
“To come back and get ahead, that’s huge, and it shows that my girls that I have just never quit,” Stepek said. “They never have all year.”
The loss was brutal, but Stepek and her staff molded a young team with plenty of inexperienced players into a squad that came within one strike of winning a playoff game.
“Man, they came a long way from where we started and where we ended this year,” Stepek said. “I’m proud of them.”