MATTOON — Maybe it was the impending storm that was barreling down on Coles County, forcing the first pitch of a doubleheader between Mattoon and Taylorville to come before 10 a.m. even hit. Maybe it was the excitement about Mattoon’s prom later in the evening and all the theatrics around it – chatter about which intermittently popped up around the park and stands.
Whatever it was, it created a feeling of anticipation that hung around the Roundhouse softball complex Saturday morning and early afternoon.
“They have a lot on their minds today,” Mattoon coach Hannah Dow said.
Mattoon will head into prom, though, with two run-rule wins over Taylorville. The Green Wave (9-11, 3-5 Apollo Conference) erupted for five runs in the sixth inning for a 12-1 win in the first game. They pounded out 10 runs on nine hits in the sixth stanza of the second game to claim a 16-6 victory in one of the more bizarre contests of the season.
“Hitters came through strong today,” Dow said. “Just executing and making sure we get runs when we needed them.”
Taylorville (3-15, 0-8) held a 6-5 lead entering that sixth inning. Rain had arrived at that point, a steady drizzle that wasn’t strong enough to call or postpone the game but enough to make for slick outfield grass and heavy infield dirt. Everyone knew what was soon coming, though.
“That itself kind of kicked them in gear,” Dow said. “They were a little more relaxed and settled, just going through the motions in that second game a little bit.”
Mattoon decided enough was enough and sent themselves into their pre-prom plans an inning early. The offense opened up like the skies did about 10 minutes after the end of the game.
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Brooklyn Edwards tied the score with an RBI single, and Jordan Sapp gave Mattoon the lead with a two-run single. Grace McDowell drove in two with a double and Sapp, the 15th hitter in the inning, supplied the game-ending RBI double. It was her fifth hit of the game and eighth of the day.
“In the last inning in the huddle, I said somebody has to take charge,” Dow said. “Stay focused, stay locked in. You did it all last game and did it some here too. Somebody had to step up and once we did, everybody followed.”
The second game featured plentiful traffic on the bases for Taylorville. The Tornadoes put at least two runners on base in each of the first four innings, but came away with just three runs. Only four of their 11 players who reached base safely through four innings did so with a hit. Taylorville’s first two runs scored on a bases-loaded hit by pitches, and another came on a steal of home when Mattoon tried to throw out a runner stealing second.
Heads-up defense picked up Mattoon starting pitcher Raven Morrison when she didn’t have her best command and prevented any inning from getting out of hand. McDowell caught a line drive at third base and threw to first to double off a runner to end the first inning. Shortstop Delainey Bryant turned an unassisted double play in the third when she snagged a liner and tagged the runner who ventured too far off second.
“You have a mistake and then make a great play, you feed off of that rather than what had just happened,” Dow said.
The first game featured a bit less suspense. Mattoon starter Gracie Dow allowed just four hits in her final five frames after Taylorville scored a first-inning run. The 1-0 deficit evaporated right away after Mattoon scored in the each of the first four innings. The only out in that five-run sixth came on a fielder’s choice at home. Kate Jacobs and Rylee Phillips each had RBI singles before Dow smacked a two-run double to end the game.
Mattoon is 7-4 since ending an early April five-game skid and has scored double-digit runs in all of those wins. Six of them have ended on the run rule.
“They’re really starting to believe they have the talent,” Hannah Dow said. “We’re starting to peak at the right time. They’re having a little bit more fun. There at the beginning we played a lot of tough teams, and losing’s not fun. But we learned a lot about ourselves and just making those adjustments, making sure we’re able to move forward.”