CHARLESTON – Reagan McGahey darted from third base the instant the ball hit the dirt and began to roll. She took off, as if shot out of a cannon, and barreled toward home as the go-ahead run.
McGahey blew right through a ‘you’re up’ call from a teammate, sliding anyway. All in one motion, she slid, popped up, skipped and let out an impassioned ‘let’s go!’ before high-fiving teammate Kennedy Fellers.
Her fifth-inning hurry home gave Charleston softball a 10-9 lead in a 12-10 win over Mattoon Tuesday in the nightcap of a doubleheader originally scheduled for Saturday. The win gave Charleston a sweep of the Green Wave after the Trojans took the first game 12-8, their second straight season winning both games of their annual doubleheader against their Route 16 neighbor. They’re now 8-0 to begin the season, while Mattoon is 2-5.
In securing it, Charleston offered another statement and more evidence that the crosstown rivalry is, well, actually a rivalry instead of one team beating the other at will as Mattoon often did to Charleston not long ago. McGahey’s display of excitement embodied the Trojans’ view of the stakes.
“You have to have some wins and losses,” Charleston coach Blain Mayhall said. “You can’t have one team just getting blown out all the time. I know people say Mattoon and Charleston is a rivalry, but there’s no rivalry if one of the teams always loses. When I started, I talked about that. We had to change the way these games go. They can’t be a beatdown every time.”
Those days appear long over. Mattoon vs. Charleston has turned into a competitive softball rivalry where every inning offers dramatic twists and turns, leading to uncertainty of the outcome until the final out. It is no longer a rivalry in proximity only.
“They’re a good team,” Mayhall said of Mattoon. “They hit really well and had a lot of home runs tonight. But our kids don’t think about what happened in the past. They weren’t a part of that so they can’t dwell on that. They have to create their own situation. That’s what I’ve told them. You decide if it’s a rivalry or not. Don’t let anybody else decide that.”
The games were two marathons played on an increasingly chilly afternoon with a stiff wind blowing out toward left field. There were, unsurprisingly, seven home runs in all. The two games featured five combined lead changes. It wasn’t always pretty either – 18 total errors added to the outpouring of offense. The ebbs and flows of momentum in both games felt powerful enough to knock the two-story Karch Field press box and storage shed right off its moorings.
Mattoon struck first in both, scoring twice in the first inning of the opening game and then four times in the third after Charleston tied the score at 4-4. Alexus Dibartolomeo started the outburst with two outs by drilling a solo home run, and Grace McDowell followed with a three-run blast three batters later.
“I asked them to jump on the ball early, jump on the first pitch and score some runs,” Mattoon coach Hannah Dow said. “We’re going to have to put up runs. We hadn’t in the last couple games, so that was our focus this week.”
The Green Wave scored five times in the first inning of the second game, fueled by four Charleston errors. After Kennedy Fellers’ three-run homer in the second inning gave Charleston a 7-5 lead, Dibartolomeo put Mattoon in front 9-7 with a grand slam in the fourth.
In the end, though, Charleston won both with a pair of late-inning rallies. Dee Campbell picked up the win in each game as a relief pitcher, allowing one run over 5 2/3 total innings. The Trojans scored eight runs in the bottom of the sixth in the first game and took the lead on Ramsey Armstrong’s go-ahead RBI single. Haleigh Misner dropped a flare into short right field to plate two more runs and give Charleston a slightly more comfortable cushion.
In the second game, Charleston scored three times in the fifth inning to take that 10-9 lead, with McGahey scoring the third and final run. Hannah Harpster hit an RBI double to start the rally, and Macey McElravey tied it with a drive that, while classified as a groundout, was a line shot that ricocheted off Mattoon pitcher Brooklyn Edwards and scored Harpster.
McGahey’s run capped a 2-for-4 nightcap that included a two-run home run in the second inning. It all came after she shook off the first inning, in which she committed all four of the errors.
“That’s not like her. She doesn’t make errors like that,” Mayhall said. “She just doesn’t. You have to fight through it. After she was down on herself, she picked herself up and got the team going. It’s good to see. It’s a nice way to play.”
The presence of more talented players has helped turn this annual tango into the competitive rivalry it is now. Both teams have seniors signed to play college softball. Four of them – Mattoon’s McKenzee Davee and McDowell, Charleston’s Campbell and Misner – will be teammates at Lake Land College next spring.
“We have pretty equal talent on the field,” Dow said. “It’s a coin flip. It could go either way.”
There’s a clear sense of respect and camaraderie for the other on the field. These two towns are, after all, just 10 miles apart and really one market. That means some of the players from both have played with each other on travel teams and work with similar coaches. Hugs were exchanged in the postgame handshake line and banter exchanged at home plate during each game.
“They play against each other a lot in the summer,” Mayhall said. “It doesn’t have to be where you just hate people because that’s not what it’s about. But you have to want to beat them too.”