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Thriving in the clutch (times two): Veschak's walk-off home run and tie-breaking double power Boone Grove to PCC tourney title

PORTER TOWNSHIP -- Good players and great players are often separated by the ability to perform in the clutch.

After what Emily Veschak did to power Boone Grove to the Porter County Conference tournament title Saturday, there's no doubt which category the Wolves senior is in.

"I thrive off of it," Veschak said. "Playing these better teams, you have to rise to the occasion."

And rise she did, twice.

Veschak's seventh-inning two-run home run gave Boone a 2-1 walkoff win over Hebron in the semifinals.

"My freshman year, I hit a grand slam against Valpo," she said. "We were down 10-0, it ended up 20-10. That was one of those same feelings you always remember."

In the championship against South Central, she ripped a tie-breaking two-run double in the sixth inning, the decisive blow in a 5-2 victory.

"It's just staying relaxed up there, knowing it's just a game, finding my pitch and driving it," Veschak said. "When it was tied, I was like, don't try to do too much, keep my composure, get dialed in and something good will happen."

Down 2-0 in the fifth, South Central tied the game on a Val Horne two-out, two-run shot, and the tie held into BG sixth. Alyssa Llanos walked and after a strikeout, Jordyn Botma rallied in the count to do the same, bringing up Veschak, who had tripled and walked. She didn't waste any time, drilling Lexi Johnson's first pitch, a topspin line drive that hit the base of the fence, bringing in both runners.

"Lexi is a great pitcher, she has a great rise ball," said the Drake-bound Veschak, a versatile position player who moved from the infield to catcher this season. "Just lay off that, find my pitch and fire. It was perfect."

Mario Otero bunted in Veschak and Natalee Meinert closed out the Satellites in the seventh to wrap up the win.

"Not good for my health, but good for them," Boone coach Ron Saunders said. "Lots of drama. They didn't quit. That's the huge thing. We were down all game (against Hebron), South Central tied it up. You've got to give (Johnson) credit. We struggled with the rise ball. We didn't make adjustments until the very end. It's something we've got to work on -- stay off the high one. Emily's one of my best hitters. She was ready. I thought when she hit it, it might go out. She is (clutch). She's her own worst critic. If I come down on her about not making an adjustment, she's like, I already know that."

The one-out walk to Botma may have changed S.C.'s strategy with Llanos already on second after beating a pickoff throw from first, but with first base occupied, there was no pitching around Veschak.

"I don't play that way," coach Tony Wallace said. "I'd rather go head on at them. We played good defense most of the way. We've had that done to us where they walk our hitters. Call me stubborn. I think Lexi would rather go at her in that situation. Usually your No. 2 (hitter) is going to be pretty good, too. I don't want to give them an automatic first base, make them earn it. We were so close. I probably should have challenged the second ball (on Botma). I thought she held the bat out. I thought Lexi did a good job. She was on. It's not like they took her for 10 hits. It's a good team."

Veschak didn't take long to start the scoring, tripling to right center in the first and sliding in just ahead of Kendall Rosenbaum's throw on Olivia Treece's fly ball to center. Botma singled in the third, advanced when Veschak's popup was dropped in shallow left and scored on an Otero single after the throw went to third and was relayed late to the plate.

"We had our back turned to (the) play, and (Botma) took home," Wallace said. "(Llanos) stole second on a throwdown. They both were sleeping."

Johnson managed to keep the game tied in the fifth after a walk, hit batter and single loaded the bases with none out, striking out Boone's four, five and six hitters.

"That was probably one of her best come from behind innings in three years," Wallace said. "We weren't getting any (umpire) help. She got out of it. Unfortunately, the next inning, everything fell flat."

Mariah Atteberry shut out South Central on two hits until Horne's drive to left.

"I was hoping we would knock Atteberry out before that so we'd have more time with Meinert," Wallace said. "You've got two high quality pitchers like that, why not?"

Meinert gave up a Johnson hit and a walk, striking out three, a nice catch in left field ending the sixth.

"We thought the third time around, we were going to make a change," Saunders said. "She had two outs, OK, let's her finish and the next pitch was a home run. Two different style pitchers, different speeds. We had talked about having a real short leash. That's the first runs (Atteberry)'s given up all year. We've got three pretty good pitchers. (Johnson)'s one of their best hitters. she's hits almost everybody. Nobody else really touched (Meinert)."

Despite Wallace's success as a coach and SC's as a program overall, it has never won a PCC tournament, with most of the losses coming against Saunders and Boone, who have claimed it eight times since 2014.

"It's the third or fourth final we've been in. If I'm not mistaken, we've always played Boone," Wallace said. "They stack their schedule and play good competition. It was a good, hard-fought game. I don't think we were outclassed. We were right there. We may not have the athletic personnel a lot of times have, but we find a way to get it done. We do an amazing job, considering it's a blend of travel players and town kids. It's making the girls feel comfortable and we have confidence in them."

South Central (20-4) gets another shot at Boone on Thursday in a round-robin makeup game. The Wolves (17-4) win the title outright with a win, and tied SC and Hebron if they lose.

"We can't get behind. We have to come out of the gate fired up," Veschak said. "We can't let up the entire time."

Boone Grove won the Porter County Conference softball tournament Saturday, defeating South Central 5-2 in the championship. Photo by Josh Russell

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