MT. VERNON – Less than 48 hours earlier, Mt. Vernon’s Sydney Morgan walked in her high school graduation with the rest of the Mt. Vernon Class of 2017.
On Monday, Morgan wasn’t ready for her softball career to end as she delivered a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to help the Lady Rams beat Salem, 7-6, in a Class 3A regional softball game.
“Throughout the game, I was hitting a lot of pop-ups,” said Morgan. “I was really frustrated about it. It’s a surreal feeling. I’m really proud and I know my team is really proud of me. I’m ready to move forward and keep playing the best I can.”
It was the first victory in the regional since the Lady Rams won the Carbondale Regional with shutout victories over Centralia and Marion in 2011.
The win sets up a matchup with No. 2 seed Herrin Tuesday in one of two semifinals at the Mt. Vernon Regional.
“It was a very good game overall,” said Rams’ coach Bill England. “We stranded some runner. Probably should have won it earlier, but timely hitting with the long ball work for our advantage for once.”
There was plenty of drama in the game as the Lady Rams needed two comebacks in what would have been their final at-bat before Morgan’s game-winner.
Salem took a 1-0 lead on a solo home run with two outs in the first inning off the bat of Kaitlyn Maxey. They lead was extended in the top half of the seventh inning when the Wildcats scored on a walk with the bases loaded as Salem captured a 2-0 lead.
Then in the home half of the seventh, with two on, Kayla Hawkins tied it with a two-RBI double to send the game into extra innings.
The score stayed 2-2 until the ninth when Salem scored four times. Three runs came on a three-run homer from Maxey, which was followed by a solo home run off the bat of Madison Caswell.
In the Lady Rams’ half of the ninth, Kalyn Baum led off with a single. She moved to second on a ground ball out and scored on a single from Ashton McPherson.
A ground ball from Morgan almost ended the game, but Salem’s shortstop booted the ball allowing both runners to reach safely.
That setup Brooklynn Kelley to deliver a towering three-run homer to tie the game and keep the Rams’ hopes of advancing alive.
“It was crazy,” said Kelley. “I was just trying to stay back and hit the ball hard. My goal wasn’t to hit a home run. I was just going to hit it hard, get on and see what’s next. It felt really good to help my team out like that.”
Mt. Vernon starting pitcher Addi Sargent kept Salem off the board in the 10th and 11th innings. She picked up the win and going all 11 innings in the circle. She surrendered nine hits, striking out 16 batters and walking six.
“The girls wanted that one,” said England. “I’m not sure I’ve ever been apart of two comebacks like that in one game. A great effort on their part.”
The Rams will face Herrin Tuesday 4:30 PM with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship.