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Otten helps IWA shut down Warrenton in Class 4 quarterfinal affair

Otten helps IWA shut down Warrenton in Class 4 quarterfinal affair

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BEL-NOR — There was no need for Incarnate Word Academy pitcher Sophia Otten to look over her shoulder on Thursday with the game-tying run on third base.

It was the 6-foot-1 freshman's game to win or lose.

Otten survived.

She shut the door down the stretch as the Red Knights knocked off Warrenton 3-2 in a Class 4 quarterfinal game at Incarnate Word.

"Coach told me yesterday (Wednesday) that I'd be starting," Otten said of coach Shannon Fitzpatrick. "She said me and (Olivia) Stroker would be swapping in and out to mess with their timing and give them a different view. But then today she said I was in a groove so she was just going to keep me in. I felt good out there."

Fitzpatrick never second-guessed her decision to go only with Otten.

"She's been our workhorse all season," Fitzpatrick said. "We believe in her and she believes in herself. We knew she could do it."

The Red Knights (17-11) will face Rolla (30-8) in a state semifinal game at 2 p.m. on Oct. 28 at the Killian Softball Complex in Springfield.

Incarnate Word finished fourth in Class 3 in 2017 and 2019.

IWA heads into the final four riding a nine-game winning streak. The Red Knights also improved to 2-3 against Warrenton and snapped a three-game losing skid to the Warriors.

Reaching the state tournament is satisfying for Fitzpatrick.

"I think a lot of people doubted us," Fitzpatrick said. "At times, we doubted ourselves. But we're going."

Otten struck out four and walked five in hiking her season record to 8-6.

"I was just trying to stay focused out there," Otten said. "I was hitting my spots and kept my energy up and stayed positive."

Warrenton coach Chad Berrey was impressed with Otten's effort.

"She was all around the strike zone," Berrey said. "It was the first time we've seen someone be effectively wild like she was. It worked out for her. She was painting the black all day. When she needed a strike, she threw one. She has a bright future for sure."

Still, things got for tense for IWA in the seventh.

Otten hit senior Kierston Andersen to start the inning. After a groundout, she walked sophomore Kylie Witthaus. Sophomore Rayli Duncan smacked a double to right field to drive in Andersen. A groundout plated Witthaus to pull Warrenton within a run at 3-2.

Fitzpatrick did not waver in her commitment to Otten.

"We were riding with her all the way," Fitzpatrick said. "She got us through the whole game. They have a good hitting team. She plays high-level ball. She's used to the pressure and we knew she could handle it."

Otten remained calm. The noisy throng of fans on both sides were screaming.

"I wasn't really nervous at all," Otten said. "I'm kind of used to stressful games and people cheering super loud. I just block it out. I just try and stay positive. This might sound weird, but I also think of the movie 'Cars' in these situations where the guy is going 'I'm speed. I'm the best.' He's in his head knowing what he's got to do to stay on top."

It worked for Otten.

She induced sophomore leadoff hitter Kaylen Reynolds to hit a shallow pop foul between home and first base. Junior catcher Ella Post jumped out from behind the plate and called for the ball. Diving headfirst in front of the dugout, she caught the ball as she slammed into the dirt for the final out.

"I knew that I had to take charge. I knew I had to lay out and do everything I could to help my team out and finish off the game," Post said.

Post will never forget the game-ending play.

"My emotions just ended," Post said. "I was like we just did it. I was so proud of our team."

Berrey felt his squad simply ran out of time.

"I wish it was a nine-inning game instead of seven," Berrey said. "You have to get it done in seven in softball. We had the bottom half of our lineup up and we always preach we don't give up on a game. It's never over until it's over. It's not a strange feeling for us. We were one hit away. Who knows?"

Warrenton senior Kathryn McChristy (9-8) took the loss in pitching 5 1/3 innings. She retired the first nine hitters before walking Olivia Stroker to start the fourth inning. Post hit a ground-rule double, but McChristy struck out the next two hitters before throwing a wild pitch to score Lasek and send Post to third. Sophomore Kenzie Nelson walked.

Senior Becca Ramer came into pinch hit. She laid down a perfect bunt. McChristy picked it up with her glove and shoveled the ball to home, but Post beat the errant throw to give the Red Knights a 2-0 lead.

"I'm known for my bunting," Ramer said. "That's my job. I had to get it down. It was a big play for us."

Incarnate Word added a run in the sixth. Senior Macy Brown singled and advanced on a wild pitch. With one out, Nelson hit an RBI single to right. Singles by Ramer and junior Sam Buehler loaded the bases. In came Witthaus, a left-hander, from left field to relieve McChristy. She got a comebacker to the circle and then a strikeout to thwart the Red Knights.

Witthaus also pitched out of danger in the seventh. She loaded the bases on a single, hit a batter and surrendered a walk. However, she got to force plays at home before getting a ground out to keep the score at 3-0.

"She was in there with the bases loaded and she shut it down," Berrey said. "She's only a sophomore. She throws it hard. She doesn't give up a lot of hits or walks. We made some plays behind her."

Warrenton (18-11) saw its nine-game winning streak and season halted by the loss.

The Warriors had chances to dent Otten and got runners on in five of the seven innings.

"We just couldn't string base hits and push runs across the plate," Berrey said. "The balls we did hit were hard, their defense gobbled up. They made some good plays."

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