LACROSSE -- If at first you don't succeed...
A failed suicide squeeze and fouled suicide squeeze didn't stop Ron Saunders from calling bunt again for Jamie Botma with runners on second and third and one out in the sixth inning of a 0-0 game with Hebron on Saturday.
"We still had to, especially in a nothing-nothing game," the Wolves coach said. "We work on that so much. We won a semistate game with that (in 2015), we won a (23)-inning game with that (in 2017). We're very good at it; 90, 95 percent of the time, it does make a difference. If you can get a run in, get a run in."
The second time around, Botma got the bunt down, and while the Hawks had a chance to cut down Mariah Atteberry at the plate on pitcher Brooke Cunningham's flip, the ball got away on the tag and the scoreless tie was broken. The play triggered a five-run outburst that accounted for all the scoring in the Porter County Conference tournament championship game.
"I always have confidence when I'm told to bunt because I know I can get it down. I'm like, I got this, I can help us score this run," Botma said. "I've been a pretty good bunter throughout my career. I actually jinxed myself before. I said in the dugout, guys, all season, I haven't missed a suicide bunt. (The first one) was on a bad pitch. It surprised me, but I got the next one down, which really helped us."
Botma was in middle school watching from the other side of the fence when Boone used a bunt to win 3-2 in 23 innings over the course of two days against Bishop Noll in 2017.
"Every practice, we are working on bunts. Ron's always big on bunting," she said. "You go into the sectional, regional, if you don't get that down, you're going to be sitting."
Until that inning, Boone's bats were quiet against Cunningham, a freshman who had allowed three baserunners, none of whom passed second base.
"We were sleeping," Hawks coach Craig Doelling said. "Brooke deserved a better defensive game behind her than she got. She threw well. (Natalee) Meinert threw well again. She and Brooke are going to be a duel for four years. It should've been a 0-0 ball game going into the bottom of the seventh. We should be in extra innings right now. Boone capitalized on it. We knew it would be a pitching duel. We made multiple routine mistakes, a couple of them back-to-back that blew the inning open. You can't give good teams extra outs. There were multiple things that started the snowball rolling."
A dropped pop up, run-scoring wild pitch and walk loaded the bases. With two outs, Kylie Wertz got clipped by a pitch and Marianna Broton broke the flood gates with a two-run single. She, Botma and Emily Vaschek accounted equally for all six Boone hits.
"Both pitchers are really good. It was basically a pitch-off," Broton said. "It all came down to who was going to crack first and who was going to get the bats going. Whenever I go into the box, I'm always waiting for that one pitch. I know she has a really good rise ball. My first hit, it was a little low and outside. That one was a little lower and slightly inside. It was a matter of jumping on the ball when you could. It was really big. That kind of secured the win for us. It was really exciting."
The crooked number all but squashed any Hebron hopes of rallying against Meinert, a freshman who only allowed a first-inning single to Bella Bowgren. She had to sidestep a threat in the fourth when an error, a hit batter and wild pitch put Hawks on second and third, but got out of it on a soft comebacker, the first of 10 straight batters she set down to end the game.
"Hebron's a good team. They have pretty good hitters, but we also have pretty good defense, so I was a little comfortable of course, but at the same time, I was making sure I was staying focused," Meinert said. "Being ahead five runs is a lot more comfortable, but I still had the adrenaline. I knew it was going to be a close game. They were really good the last time and I was going into the game really focused."
Meinert struck out eight and walked none as Hebron consistently attacked pitches early in the count.
"We take pride in our defense," Saunders said. "You ask the girls, we think we're the best defensive team around. Whether it's true or not, that's what we believe. If I believe it, they believe it. If we make a mistake, we don't let it hurt us too much. I'd like to think my third baseman would have caught that (bunt) and my catcher would have held on to the next one. The little things, you don't think they matter, but they do. We had a couple missed signs, a couple missed bunts by two of our best bunters, but we got the big one down."
As if the rivalry and the stakes weren't enough, a 1-0 loss to Hebron during PCC round-robin play stoked Boone's coals even more.
"We had a lot more adrenaline to win only because they did win the last time and we didn't want that to happen again," Meinert said. "This was a way bigger game."
"We wanted to come back for vengeance," Broton added.
Saunders underwent surgery after a heart attack Nov. 30, and kidded that he almost took a break one inning in the Hebron dugout during the game.
"They gave me a water. I was getting a little dehydrated. There was a bit of anxiety. That settled me down," he said. "I do have enough parents, a couple who are nurses, who look out for me and make sure I'm OK."
The tourney title is Boone's fourth in five years.
"The 1-0 loss really played a big factor with these kids, especially the juniors," Saunders said. "They wanted it bad. I asked them before the game, who wants it more? That's going to make a difference."
Boone Grove won the Porter County Conference tournament title with a 5-0 win over Hebron on Saturday at LaCrosse. (Photo courtesy of Josh Russell)
Jamie Botma holds the game ball and the PCC round-robin champions plaque and Boone Grove coach Ron Saunders holds the PCC tournament champions plaque after Saturday's 5-0 win over Hebron in the championship at LaCrosse. The teams shared the round-robin title. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Botma)