WATSEKA — Seneca leadoff hitter Madi Shanks started the Class 2A Watseka Sectional by reaching on an error by Paxton-Buckley-Loda's catcher on a bunt. She stole second, stole third and scored on a wild pitch.
It put a smile on the faces of the Lady Irish fans, one that would remain for nearly the next two hours as the locals went on an captured a 10-5 decision over the Panthers on Wednesday afternoon.
"It's very important to score runs early because it sets the tone for the game," Seneca senior Coley Baker (2 for 4) said. "But then you want to keep working to get runs."
Seneca scored twice in the first and then put up a three spot in the third and three more in the fourth to lead 7-1.
"That felt great. We like to beat on teams," Seneca sophomore Sarah Radtke said.
Seneca's second run in the first came when Nicole Pihl was hit by a pitched ball and courtesy runner Erin Hovious scored eventually on a strikeout and a wild pitch when Baker was at the plate.
Radtke hit a solo homer in the third and with two outs, Chelsie McCormick singled, stole second and scored on an RBI double by Allison Coughlin. Coughlin then scored on an RBI single by Jaclyn Andreatta.
In the fourth with one out, Miranda Hougas walked and was doubled to third by Pihl. After Hovious courtesy ran for Pihl, Radtke walked to load the bases. Baker then got the chance to atone for two strikouts to start the game against pitcher Liz Satterlee by lacing a two-RBI single.
"It had been eating at me, so it felt good to contribute to the team," Baker said. "I had struck out two times in a row and I knew the third time up I had to get the hit to get things going."
One out later, Radtke scored the seventh run on a fielder's choice groundout to short off the bat of Allison Coughlin.
The game looked awfully easy for Seneca at that point.
"Up 7-1 I think the girls got a little complacent thinking the game was over," Seneca coach Dan Stecken said. "But PBL battled ... give PBL credit for coming back and making it a game."
Which happened when the Panthers scored three times in the bottom of the fourth inning to make it 8-4. They scored once more in the sixth before Seneca got two runs of insurance in the seventh on doubles by Lexi Trompeter and Hougas and a single by Pihl.
"It wasn't our finest defensive game, but once you get into the postseason it's just a matter of winning," Stecken said. "We pride ourselves in playing small ball and putting pressure on the defense, which we did today. I just wish we could have played better defense."
Each team made a pair of errors in the contest in the field while each team left many on base. Seneca left nine and PBL 12.
PBL retires from the season with a 24-9 record while Seneca improves to 27-10. The Lady Irish will now play in the championship game on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against the winner of the St. Joe-Ogden/Bishop-McNamara game on Thursday.
"Both are tough teams and there is a reason they both have been ranked all season," Stecken said. "But I think if we play the way we are capable of, we can win a tough game."