PELLA — She was due. Emma Eekhoff was 0-for-4 on the night heading to her critical ninth inning at-bat with the bases loaded and the game in the balance. The eighth grader came through for Pella Christian as she ripped the game-winning RBI single past the third baseman to give the Eagles a 4-3 victory over East Marshall in a thrilling nine-inning regional quarterfinal matchup on Wednesday.
The Eagles got off to a great start as they opened the scoring in the first inning thanks to Natalie Harrill’s RBI double down the third base line. That was followed up by Eekhoff grounding out to third while Faith Kacmarynski would score from third on the throw to first to make it 2-0 in favor of PC.
East Marshall pitcher Morgan Neuroth would get into a little bit of a groove from there as she would retire 10 of the next 11 PC batters she faced.
Meanwhile, The Mustangs would look to cut away at the deficit and they did just that by getting a run across in the second before Dunsbergen was able to escape anymore damage with the bases loaded.
East Marshall continued to put on the pressure in the third inning, stringing three singles with the tying run crossing the plate before stranding runners on first and second.
Stranded Mustangs ended up being a big story on the night as Pella Christian was able to escape a lot of dangerous situations that resulted in 14 stranded East Marshall runners over the course of the game.
“We practiced that yesterday,” Pella Christian head coach Karen Harrill said. “We needed to make sure that we can't let them just score one here or one there. We got to do a better job of focusing on lead runner, focusing on doing our stuff well and doing our mechanics well when they have runners on base. Again, kudos to Alexa and kudos to the defense. They stepped it up when they needed to.”
The PC offense would break through again in the fifth inning after a leadoff triple down the first base line from Anna Bonnett. After a Jarah Morgan bunt single, Bailey Roose would fly one out to left where a pushing wind would give the left fielder trouble as the ball bounced off her glove allowing Bonnett to score from third to put the Eagles back out in front 3-2.
Eekhoff would get another big chance at the plate after East Marshall elected to intentionally walk Harrill to load the bases with two outs for her. Eekhoff would fly out to the second baseman to halt any further potential damage.
Dunsbergen responded to the fresh lead with her best inning of the night, setting down East Marshall’s 1-2-3 hitters in order for a quick sixth inning.
It looked like Dunsbergen was going to close them out in the seventh with the Mustangs down to the final strike before three straight clutch singles by East Marshall hitters brought the tying run around to score from second. Dunsbergen would strand two more Mustangs on base as PC would have a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the seventh.
After the first two Eagles got out, PC was looking for a two-out rally of their own. Emri Agre got things started with a single and East Marshall once again elected to intentionally walk Harrill to move the potential winning run into scoring position for Eekhoff. The eighth grader got a pretty look but the left fielder was able to charge in and make the catch to send it to extras.
In the eighth inning, East Marshall’s Neuroth got things started with a leadoff double only for Dunsbergen to retire the next three batters to get out of the inning.
Pella Christian would threaten in the bottom of the inning with Trinity Vos hitting a one-out single and Bonnett grinding out a long at-bat that resulted in a walk. Morgan would sacrifice both over to second and third with two outs for Roose. Roose would scorch one down the line but East Marshall’s freshman third baseman Ryan Mcllrath snagged it on the hop and fired it to first for the out to escape the inning.
On to the ninth.
As was the theme on the night, the Mustangs were able to get a runner to second with two outs only for Dunsbergen to leave her stranded. Pella Christian would head to the bottom of the ninth with the heart of their order coming up.
Kacmarynski opened with a leadoff walk with Agre knocking a single to put runners on first and second with no outs for Harrill. After some discussion from the East Marshall coaches, they once again elected to intentionally walk Harrill to load the bases with no outs for Eekhoff.
This time, she made them pay for it. Eekhoff would smoke one past the diving third baseman and into left field as Kacmarynski jogged home as the winning run. Eekhoff would jump into her teammate’s arms in celebration as the eighth grader came through in the big moment after coming up short earlier in the game.
“You have to fight,” Harrill said. “This is going to be a fight all the way through however far we can get. Emma was up a couple different times where we could have won it. I said just get up there and hit it, see what happens. She hit that screamer down third baseline man and I didn't know for sure if it was fair. But it was fair and we won and you know what, that's what she's going to take away from the game of softball, the fact that she succeeded. And that's the way it is, you don't know who is going to be the hero and so it was her night tonight.”
Dunsbergen scored the win after pitching nine innings and allowing three runs on 14 hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Eekhoff had the winning hit and two RBIs on the night while Agre had two hits and Harrill was 1-for-2 with a three walks, a double and a RBI.
Pella Christian (15-18) gets to play host again as they will welcome Colfax-Mingo (17-12) to town for a regional semifinal matchup on Friday at 7 p.m.
“It's going to take some again stellar defense and it's going to take great pitching by Alexa,” Harrill said. “It's just going to take the same thing we did tonight again and again. We’re going to get better and better every game. I'm proud of my kids, I'm proud of how they fought. That's the bottom line, they're gonna have to keep doing it.”