KNOXVILLE — Postseason softball is here and the freshly ranked No. 15 Knoxville Panthers played host to PCM on Tuesday night in regional quarterfinal action. It was the second time these two teams met in a week and like the first time, the Panthers would come away with a victory, 8-4.
“We didn't do great the first couple innings on defensively, but after that we settled in and made some plays and were able to score some runs kind of early and that kind of helped us set the tone for the rest of the game,” Knoxville head coach Carla Smith said.
Setting the tone early was the goal for Knoxville and they didn’t accomplish that in the top of the first as two Panther errors led to two early runs for the Mustangs.
But Knoxville would make up for it in the bottom of the inning by capitalizing on two Mustang errors. Ciara Heffron would plate the first two Knoxville runs by ripping one down the left field line for a two-RBI double. The two PCM errors would then allow two more Knoxville runs to score to put them in front 4-2.
The Panthers would look to add on in the second inning and would do just that with another big hit from Heffron that would bounce off the third base bag and into left for a RBI double, her second of the night.
In the fourth inning, Knoxville would add a pair of insurance runs with Jadyn Streigle scoring on a wild pitch and Hannah Dunkin scoring on Olivia Maasdam’s RBI groundout to make it 7-2.
PCM would not go down without a fight as they got long RBI doubles from Riley Johannes and Lark Drake to plate two Mustang runs in the fifth inning. Johannes’ double was her 17th of the season which set a new school record as PCM cut the deficit to 7-4.
Ashlyn Finarty would battle through the damage to get out of the inning before bouncing back with a quick 1-2-3 sixth inning.
“When [Ashlyn] kind of gets out of whack or maybe she throws a pitch that goes over Brittany's head, it's really good for her just to calm down and and stay within herself and continue to pitch,” Smith said. “Sometimes she gets too excited and tries to overthrow things and we've had that conversation a couple times in-between innings and I'm just like calm down and stay within yourself and then she finished strong.”
Knoxville added another insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning for good measure as Heffron laced her fourth hit and tallied her fourth RBI of the night to push her team’s lead to 8-4. Heffron was 4-for-5 in the game with two doubles.
“She started hot for us at the beginning of the year and kind of fell off a little bit but she's really worked hard about getting back and being our solid number three hitter,” Smith said.
Finarty would close out the win in the seventh to grab her 10th win of the season after giving up four runs on seven hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
Knoxville had potential to do a lot more damage as they left multiple runners on base in all seven innings to total to 13 runners stranded. It was something that ultimately didn’t hurt them on Tuesday but it something that they will need to address heading to a tough semifinal matchup later this week.
“We have to have a good approach at the plate,” Smith said. “That's what it comes down to. Scoring runs and whether we're defensively solid or not, we have to be able to score runs no matter what so that'll be kind of our take on practice the rest of the week and see what we can accomplish on Friday.”
No. 15 Knoxville (22-8) advances to the regional semifinals where they will travel to No. 8 West Liberty (21-7) on Friday at 7 p.m.