“If you didn’t have a heart condition before tonight, you probably developed one.” Those were the words of Beckman coach Ryan Meissner after his team held on for a 9-8 win over Maquoketa Valley in regional softball game, July 15, at Beckman.

The last time these two teams met was June 19 and the Wildcats controlled a 10-3 win from the start of the game. This time, MV needed two big innings, the sixth and seventh, to cut a 9-2 Blazer lead.

In the last frame, leading 9-5, the Blazers stayed with their starting pitcher, sophomore Kaylee Ludwig, after she gave up three hits to open the inning and was faced with loaded bases and no outs. A circle conference gave her the nod to continue but she gave up a passed ball to Brooke Elgin that scored Carissa Sabers and made it 9-6. Elgin retaliated with another hit to score Taya Tucker and re-load the bags. Leah Ries added a hit to left that plated Erin Knipper, 9-8, after Elgin was tagged out at second for the first out.

The bases were filled again when Kendra Hillers came up. But Ludwig got Ella Mensen to pop a high fly to short center for out number two. The final one came when Nell McDermott grabbed a hit from Peyton Beaman in left field, one of several game-saving catches the junior made during the night. And the Blazers were on their way to the regional semi-final July 18 at North East Goose Lake, against the 17-2 Rebels, winners over Clayton Ridge.

The beginning of the game looked to be a repeat of the last time the two played. The Wildcats scored two first-inning runs with two outs on the board. Tucker drew a walk and then beat a rundown between third and home to plate the first run off a hit from Knipper. Elgin outlasted a flurry of foul balls to hit to left and Knipper scored off Ries’ slider past short, to make it 2-0. Krista Ries popped out for the third. The Blazers were three up, three down in their half of the inning.

In the bottom of the second, the green-and-gold knotted the game and then edged ahead 4-2. Shea Steffen led off with a walk and advanced to third on Keeley Schmitt’s single that stretched. Reece Osterhaus pounded a single to center to plate Steffen and Schmitt came in when Emily Wulfekuhle did the same. Outs to the next two batters put the pressure on Kam Klas to bring in runs. The soph did just that, drilling to right field to score both Osterhaus and Wulfekuhle for the 4-2 lead.

They added another run in the bottom of the third, when Lauren Osterhaus opened with a towering double to left and scored, two batters later, on her sister’s shot mishandled by the shortstop.

Neither team could dent the board in the next innings but the Blazers finally broke through in the bottom of the fifth. Lauren Osterhaus was hit-by-pitch to lead off but was tagged on Steffen’s fielder’s choice ball. Schmitt advanced Steffen to second, where Abby Knepper came in to pinch run for her. Reese Osterhaus added another hit bobbled just long enough by the shortstop that Knepper was called safe running past her tag. Knepper plated on Wulfekuhle’s shot to left, making it 6-2. McDermott sent a slider through short to plate both Reese Osterhaus and Wulfekuhle and then came in to score on Klas’ shot to left, 9-2. They could have scored more but a late start on a passed ball during Jadyn Welling’s at-bat resulted in a rundown and the third out.

The Wildcats got three of those runs back in their half of the sixth. Knipper singled to open and Elgin ground out. Leah Ries drew

a walk and Rausch, running for Knipper, scored off Krista Ries’ single to center. After Emma Richter popped up for the second out, Mensen hit a little flier to first that was dropped. Both Leah Ries and Kaela Clemen, running for Krista Ries, scored when the throw to home was off track, making it 9-5 with an inning to go.

Welling and Lauren Osterhaus both whiffed to start the Beckman sixth. Steffen laced one to left giving them a baserunner, but Sheehy worked Schmitt into a strikeout to end the threat, setting up the pivotal seventh.

“These kids just never give up,” added Meissner. “They’re so young, so awesomely young. But they’re learning every day. Good thing they didn’t let that tough sixth hurt them. They are playing together and that’s what is important.”

McDermott said, “It was awesome to get that last catch. Jadyn (Welling, center field) helps me so much out there. She makes sure I know how far I am and where to go, she’s always talking to me.”

“It is good to have a team behind you that you know will step up, “said Ludwig. “I was getting scared there when they were coming back but I just have to tell myself I can do it and get back in the groove.”

Wildcat coach Macy Kintzle was philosophical. “They were ready for us this time. They knew what we would do and they were ready. When we loaded the bases in the seventh, I thought we’d pull it out. But it wasn’t to be this time. The girls are really playing together and that’s a good thing to take from the season.”

For the Blazers, Reece Osterhaus went 3-for-3, Wulfekuhle and McDermott 2-for-3, Klas, Steffen and Schmitt 2-for-4, with Lauren Osterhaus adding a hit. Ludwig got the win, scattering nine hits for eight runs, fanning one and walking three.

Knipper went 3-for-4 for the Wildcats, Leah Ries 2-for-3, with Sabers, Elgin, Mensen and Krista Ries all adding a hit. Thompson took the loss, giving up four runs on five hits. Sheehy tallied five runs on five hits.