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Softball spotlight: St. Charles West uses improbable 31-30 win to spark run to elite eight

Softball spotlight: St. Charles West uses improbable 31-30 win to spark run to elite eight

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ST. CHARLES — Kylie Runion somehow lost track of the softball amidst all of the hoopla and celebration.

The St. Charles West senior shortstop caught the final out of the Warriors' improbable 9-7 comeback victory against Westminster late Saturday night in the Class 3 District 2 championship game at Lindenwood University.

After suffering through three excruciating painful seasons, the four-year starter badly wanted the momento.

Yet no one could help her locate the bright yellow ball.

"It's OK," she said. "I'd like to have it. But I'll still remember this forever."

The Warriors claimed their first district championship in 11 years with a pair of unbelievable comebacks last weekend.

West (9-15) is hoping to continue its magical ride when it faces Perryville (15-12) in a quarterfinal contest at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Perryville City Park.

The Warriors literally came from out of nowhere to reach the elite eight.

Given up for dead twice, they rallied from huge deficits to record stunning victories.

"I still don't really believe it," Runion said.

Added coach Jeremy Middendorf, "I've been shaking my head the last two days. Nothing these girls do surprises me anymore."

West, which had been eliminated in its first district tournament game each of the last four seasons, seemed destined for another one and done Friday. It trailed Orchard Farm 12-1 after three innings before scoring 19 runs over the final two frames for a 31-30 victory in a semifinal contest that lasted just more than four hours.

Runion caught the final out of one of the strangest playoff games in state history. She took the ball home for safe keeping.

"I wanted another one to go with it," she said.

Super comeback No. 2 seemed just as unlikely.

The Warriors trailed Westminster 6-0 heading into the sixth inning of the district final. They had managed just four hits.

Then, out of nowhere, came another gargantuan rally.

"We just never gave up," Runion said.

West scored nine times and sent 12 players to the plate to snatch victory from defeat — again.

"When you come back and win like we did last night — this is nothing," freshman Delaney Little said after Saturday's win. "Now we're believing we can do anything."

Little provided the biggest blow of the huge inning — a two-run inside-the-park homer that trimmed St. Charles West's deficit to 6-4. A few walks, a couple errors later, and West was on top to stay.

"This group just has so much fight," Middendorf said. "They age me a lot, but it's fun to watch."

This Cinderella run has put West softball on the map for the first time in more than a decade. The Warriors were 5-16 in each of the previous three seasons following an 0-25 campaign in 2017.

Now they are within one win of reaching the final four for the third time in school history and the first since 2004.

Plus they are creating a buzz around campus and throughout the community.

"Softball didn't used to be big, but we're being big now," said junior pitcher Leanna Mitts, who went the distance in the title contest. "I see a change. Hopefully if other girls see this they'll come out and try for the team just to be a part of this."

Middendorf and his players can't put a finger on what triggered the about-face. The team had a 4-13 record after a 9-1 loss to Warrenton on Sept. 29 and appeared on the fast track to nowhere.

"This year was pretty rough at times," Runion said. "But we owed to ourselves to play through and keep going.

"And look what's happened."

Senior Jazmyrn Chapman went 6-for-10 at the plate during the two-game blitz. Little added four hits.

West is a decided underdog against Perryville, which has won 10 of its last 12 games and plays a rugged schedule.

But that doesn't bother Runion.

"We're pretty confident after all the things we've been though," she said.

Added Mitts, "I wouldn't count us out."

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