BELLEVILLE - Ashlynn Samson had three hits and drove in three runs, while Olivia Hemmerle struck out 12, as Edwardsville High's softball team couldn't overcome a slow start and lost to Belleville East 7-1 in the IHSA Class 4A Pekin sectional semifinal game played at Belleville West on Tuesday.

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The Tigers fell behind 2-0 after the first, and 6-0 after the second inning, and after that the Tigers fought back, but couldn't get over the hump and fell to the Lancers.

"They started strong, and we came out slow," said Edwardsville coach Caty Happe. "We got stronger as the game went on, we were just a little too late."

Senior pitcher Riley Nelson performed well under the circumstances and kept fighting throughout the whole game.

"She fought back, which is always good to see," Happe said. "We just needed to make a few more plays behind her"

Despite the season-ending loss, the Tigers had a very good season, with all of the players working hard and accomplishing much during the campaign.

"It was a really good season," Happe said. "We had a lot of work going in, and we were able to learn a lot. We worked hard all season, and we accomplished a lot of good things."

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The graduating seniors all left a positive mark on the program, and they all will be missed dearly. That will give younger players a chance to shine when the 2025 season begins next spring.

"Seniors are always hard to replace," Happe said. "for their leadership, and their on-field contributions. A lot of the younger girls will be coming back with experience, and gives them opportunities."

Happe's favorite part of the season? Watching her team bond together and become a very close-knit family that supports and encourages each other.

"It was how close the girls got," Happe said, "and that's always good to see. We're really a family."

The Lancers took their 6-0 lead after the second inning, and scored in the fourth to make it 7-0, before Edwardsville scored its only run in the sixth, making the final 7-1.

Audrey De La Torre Cruz, Madi Kolakowski, Reese McNamara, and Nelson had the only hits on the day for the Tigers, while Nelson went all the way inside the circle, allowing seven runs, three earned, on seven hits, walking two and striking out six.

Edwardsville's season ends at 23-9, while East is now 26-10, and advances to Friday's sectional final/Round of 16 game against Minooka, who defeated Bradley Bourbonnais 10-0 in the other semifinal, at Pekin in a 6 p.m. start The winner goes on the Illinois Wesleyan University super-sectional/state quarterfinal game at The Carol Willis Park and Inspiration Field against the Plainfield North winner --- either Plainfield North, Wheaton North, Oswego East, or Wheaton-Warrenville South --- Monday at 4 p.m.

The Class 3A and 4A state finals are set for the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria next weekend, June 7-8.

Dan Brannan also contributed to this story.

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