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Sullivan tops Bowling Green, advances to third state final in five seasons

Sullivan tops Bowling Green, advances to third state final in five seasons

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Sullivan vs. Bowling Green softball

Sullivan's Sophia Weirich and Sullivan's Jaedin Blakenship celebrate the final out of a Class 3 semifinal girls softball game on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Mo. Gordon Radford | Special to STLhighschoolsports.com

SULLIVAN — Kayla Ulrich’s hands were hurting Saturday as she stood on first base in temperatures hovering in the mid-40s.

The sophomore infielder for the Sullivan High softball team didn’t mind too much.

Ulrich’s two-run double in the top of the fourth inning provided the winning margin in the Eagles’ 4-1 win over Bowling Green in a Class 3 softball state semifinal.

“Even though I got jammed, I got enough on it and it felt good to come through, Ulrich said. “It hurt. It really did, but it was worth it.”

Sullivan (20-9) advanced to play in the state championship game for the second consecutive season, the third time in five seasons and the fifth time in program history.

The Eagles, in search of their first state title, are scheduled to face Savannah (19-2) at 5 p.m. Friday at Killian Sports Complex in Springfield. The Eagles defeated Savannah 10-2 last season in a state semifinal before falling to Helias in the final.

“These kids have put in a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of tears,” Eagles coach Ashley Crump said. “It’s been a strange season. We still don’t have our full squad back, but we’re going to Springfield. The whole thing for us has been to take it one pitch, one play at a time and the girls continued to do that.”

Ulrich’s hit in the third provided the only multi-run inning of the game and put the Eagles ahead 3-0.

Sullivan jumped ahead 1-0 in the top of the first inning when junior catcher Sophia Weirich drove in a run. The hit was Weirich's second big play of the inning as she gathered in a strike thrown from junior center fielder Riley Branson and tagged out a Bowling Green runner in the top of the first inning to keep the game scoreless. 

Bowling Green (19-8) pulled to within 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth by scoring on a wild pitch.

That chased Sullivan’s starting and winning pitcher, senior Hannah Johanning. But sophomore Jaedin Blankenship shined in earning the save.

Blankenship she stranded a Bowling Green runner on third to end the sixth and was spotless in the seventh to end the game, finishing with a strikeout.

“I just wanted to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters and do my job,” Blankenship said. “I was super excited. I knew we were going to play for a championship at that moment.”

Sullivan also got an insurance run in the top of the seventh on Branson’s RBI single.

Johanning pitched 5 1/3 innings to earn the win. She only allowed two hits but walked six.

“Jaedin did a good job staying loose because she came in (during) the middle of the at-bat, so she was loose and ready to go,” Crump said. “Hanna battled.”

Tanner Turner, a junior, suffered the loss for Bowling Green.

The Bobcats beat Perryville 8-7 by scoring twice in the bottom of the seventh but couldn’t replicate the same magic a second postseason game in a row.

“Here lately with the run we’ve been on, in the Perryville game, we scored seven of our eight runs with two outs,” Bobcats coach Craig Smith said. “That big two-out hit, we just couldn’t get it. We were getting base runners on but we couldn’t get the hit.”

Now, Sullivan turns its focus to Friday’s championship against Savannah.

For the third time in five seasons, the Eagles are one victory away from the first title in program history.

“We want to live in the moment for the next couple days but keep doing what we’re doing,” Crump said. “Right now, it feels like we’re going to play another game. Last year had that pressure of, ‘We need to do this.’ Right now, we’re going to go, going to enjoy it, play ball and do the best we can.”

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