By Mike Monahan
MOUNT VERNON – A five-run third inning by John A. Logan sunk Lake Land in the NJCAA Division I Region 24 softball tournament Sunday.
The Lakers lost 7-3, eliminating them from the tournament, preventing them from going to another national championship tournament and ending their season at 52-10 as Great Rivers Athletic Conference champions.
“We had our shots,” said Lake Land coach Nic Nelson. “In the last inning we were still in there.”
No. 18 Lake Land even loaded the bases in the final inning.
“I told the kids they did nothing wrong,” Nelson said. “The balls just didn’t drop our way. We hit line drives and they made some great plays. They had the momentum going their way. We would get something going and then hit into a double play or they made a great catch in the outfield to kind of kill the momentum.”
Lake Land, as usual, did well in the awards in the GRAC and Region 24 tournament and Region 24.
Named to the first team all-GRAC were Rachel Kaufman, Claire Maulding, Tyanna Graber, Kaitlyn Scheitler and Carson Cole. Kaufman was named the GRAC Player of the Year. Kaufman was the top vote getter in Region 24 and is up for All-American status. Making the all-region team were Kaufman, Graber and Scheitler with Kiersten Darrough and Maulding on the second team.
Graber, Darrough, Kaufman, Klara Cejkova-Kolaci and Liz Titus made the all-region 24 tournament team.
“Most people would kill to have a season like we had,” said Nelson. “Obviously, the team was disappointed as for us the goal is always the national tournament. To go through what these kids have had to go through, from not knowing if we would have a season until March. It was quarantined for this and did you hear about this rule. The girls handled it well. I couldn’t be more proud. I told them they battled, fought and put up with all kinds of stuff. It wasn’t a normal year. After the game I had a short meeting with the freshmen and then with the sophomores. I will have a new sophomores breakfast and a sophomore dinner and it is kind of their goodbyes then.”
Lake Land would have had to defeat John A. Logan twice in the double-elimination tournament.
The regional Final Four started out well for the Lakers with a thrilling 5-4 win over Southwestern Illinois College Saturday. However, No. 23 John A. Logan topped Lake Land 9-7 in a second-round game Saturday.
Lake Land responded by eliminating No. 20 Wabash Valley College on Sunday with a 10-1 victory.
“We got our bats going,” said Nelson. “We had a lot of people on base and had left eight people on base before we started getting key hits and driving people in.”
Since May 6, the Lakers had averaged five runs per game, well below its average of nine runs per contest.
That trend continued into the final game with Wabash, the No. 23 team in the nation. The Lakers played them six times during the season, winning 6-2 and 12-4 in five innings on March 13 and then losing 4-3 and winning 4-1 on April 13 before these games in the regional tourney.
Lake Land loses 12 players, but could return as many as 10 if players decide to come back per COVID rules.
In the championship, Logan took the lead for good with two runs in the second, but it was the third inning that hurt. Logan’s Hayley Palm hit a two-run homer and Kirstin Wimstat hit a three-run homer as the Vols batted through the entire lineup.
Lake Land got two runs back when Graber hit a two-run homer to make it 7-3. But the Lakers didn’t score anymore even though they did threaten several times, leaving seven runners on base, including five in scoring position in the last four innings – and the bases loaded in the seventh inning.
Graber led the offense by going 2-for-2 with a double, a home run and driving in all three runs, while Kaufman suffered the loss. She finished at 26-6.
In the win over Wabash Valley, the Lakers batted around in the fifth to score five runs, three with two outs, for a 5-1 lead. Lake Land scored five more in the sixth. Kaufman, the winning pitcher, helped her own cause by going 2-for-4 with a double, a home run and three RBIs, while Scheitler was 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs. Kaufman allowed just three hits, one run and did not walk a batter while registering four strikeouts.
In the loss to John A Logan on Saturday, Lake Land had led 6-5 after four innings. Lake Land threatened in the seventh when, with two outs, Liz Titus hit a two-run homer to cut the deficit to two runs, but the game ended on a strikeout.
Tori Haug suffered the loss, allowing six hits, two earned runs and four walks and three strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings of relief.
In the first game of the final four, Lake Land SWIC had three lead changes and the final one occurred in the bottom of the sixth when Klara Cejkova-Kolaci hit a solo home run to lead off the inning. Kaufman retired Southwestern Illinois College in order to win. Cejokoa-Kolaci was 3-for-3 with two RBIs.
“It was a good year and not a bad tournament,” said Nelson. “The games were close and the ball just didn’t bounce our way, unfortunately. The kids were down and upset. I usually drive the freshman van except when it is the last trip home and so I drove the sophomores and they were pretty down and upset, but by the time we got to Salem they were laughing and enjoying each other’s company. They have a bright future ahead of them. They are all great kids that come from great families and I am grateful they chose Lake Land for their first two years of college. I have a good group coming back and I am excited about next year. At the freshman breakfast I will go over things for next year and things we are doing in the fall.”