EDWARDSVILLE - Grace Oertle his a three-run homer off the top of the fence in left-center field in the opening inning to get things started for Edwardsville's softball team, with Riley Nelson pitching a solid 6.2 innings. The Tigers had a big scare in the seventh inning, with Belleville West rallying to score all of its runs in the final inning, but Edwardsville held off the comeback bid and defeated the Maroons 7-4 to win the IHSA Class 4A regional final Thursday afternoon at the Edwardsville Sports Complex.

The game was originally scheduled for Friday afternoon but was moved up 24 hours because of a weather forecast of possible strong storms in the area on Friday. It was a very good game for the Tigers, as Nelson pitched very well before tiring in the seventh, and the bats were hot all afternoon.

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Tigers' head coach Caty Happe said the following: "I thought we had some quality at-bats, scored early, we didn't later, but still getting kids on, and hitting the ball hard. Tough not to score a few more after the first two (innings), but we found a way to win, and that's what's important this part of the season."

In other words, good, old-fashioned survive and advance.

"That's right,' Happe said with her trademark big smile: "That's how it's done, and we live to see another day."

Oertle has been delivering key hits and RBIs lately for Edwardsville, and she's been a big help to the Tigers in the last few games.

"Yeah, hitting the ball better, and seeing it out of the pitcher's hand," Happe said, "which is great to see. So, she's a dangerous batter, and it's good to see her come alive, right now."

Nelson also pitched another very good game, not having given up a hit until the fifth, before trouble struck in the seventh, with West's big rally, that fell short, thanks to a one-batter appearance by Kylie Lintker to nail down the save.

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"Yeah, we've got a great pitching staff," Happe said. "Even if Riley needs some help, she did a great job through those, and just looking to get out of a jam, and Kylie did a good job coming in."

Edwardsville got things going in the opening inning, starting with Jillian Hawkes singling, and Jillian Lane was hit by a pitch, followed by Oertle's three-run shot that hit the railing on top of the fence in left-center before bouncing over for the homer that put the Tigers up 3-0.

Reese McNamara led off the second with a single, and was sacrificed to second, Sophie Antonini then singled McNamara to third, with a walk to Hawkes leading the bases. Lane was hit by a pitch again, this time for a RBI, as McNamara scored. Oertle drew a bases loaded walk to force in another run, and Madi Kolakowski delivered a bases clearing two-run double to right center, with Oertle being thrown out at the plate on a great relay throw from the second baseman, leaving the score 7-0 for Edwardsville after two innings

Kayla Connor, who came in relief of starter Kara Kramer in the second, did a very effective job of shutting down the Tigers after the second, getting out of three jams along the way, especially a bases loaded, two-out situation in the bottom of the sixth to keep the Tiger lead at 7-0. Nelson rolled along as well. losing a no-hit bid in the fifth on a scratch single by Kaylee Asher, and moved right along, fanning five.

The Maroons started the seventh with a lead-off single by Daijah Jackson and a walk to Taylar McCaster. Jackson went to third on a fly out, then scored on a grounder to second by Delilah Jackson to make it 7-1. Asher was hit by a pitch, and a single by Aubrey Weaver loaded the bases, with the second run scoring on an error by the shortstop on a ball hit by Addison Geluck. Charli Coppernoll then doubled home a pair of runs to make it 7-4, and bring up the tying run to the plate. LIntker then came in and got Perrilynn Cory to ground back to the box to end the Maroons' bid and preserve the win for the Tigers 7-4.

West ends the season at 12-23, while Edwardsville goes to 23-6, and moves on to the Pekin sectional, where they'll meet the Alton regional winner, either Quincy or Belleville East, in the semifinal, which will be played Tuesday afternoon at Belleville West in a 4:30 p.m. start.

The winner of the sectional semifinal goes to Pekin High to meet the Minooka regional winner, either the host school or Rock Island, against the winner of the Moline regional, either Bradley Bourbonnais or the host Maroons, in the sectional final/Round of 15 game next Friday, May 31, at 6 p.m.

Dan Brannan also contributed to this story.

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