By Dave Morrison

COAL CITY – Nobody was surprised that the latest installment of the increasingly interesting rivalry game between Independence and Wyoming East came down to one run.

Because really, don’t they all?

However, few expected it to be a 5-4 game, won by Wyoming East in the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 tournament Tuesday. The next in the classic battle of the immovable object vs. unstoppable force comes Monday in Coal City in the championship game.

Wyoming East is one win from its third straight Section 1 title, Independence needs two wins.

The winner will face Shady Spring in the Region 3 finals.

The 5-4 final score last Tuesday represented an offensive explosion by Wyoming East and probably a defensive struggle for Independence.

Consider that Wyoming East gave up just four or more runs three times in the regular season (a 5-4 win over Logan, a 6-5 loss to Winfield and a 19-13 victory over James Monroe.

Obviously, when you have one of the state’s best pitchers, which Wyoming East has in Holly Brehm, you don’t need to be real offensive.

“We’ve pretty much ridden on her all season,” Doc Warner said often this season. “Anytime Holly is on the mound we know we have a chance.”

Her stats bear it out.

She has 15 shutouts this season and has only given up six earned runs in amassing a 21-4 record (East is 22-4). That’s in 149 innings pitched. She has 334 strikeouts, meaning she averages 2.2 strikeouts per inning and only 25.3 percent of the outs Wyoming East recorded were made in the field when Brehm was on the mound.

Wyoming East has played in eight one run games and 4-1 in 1-0 games.

Which perfectly illustrates Warner’s statement.

At one point this season the Warriors played three straight 1-0 games, going 2-1.

For Independence it was a departure from the runs it generally scores. This season the Patriots averaged 8.4 runs per game while giving up just 3.5. They are used to putting up the runs. They have scored 10 plus 14 times against what coach Ken Adkins says is the second toughest schedule in the state. They have been held to four or fewer eight times, twice in the two Wyoming East games.

The Patriots have been shut out twice, by an out-of-state team at the Ripken Experience and 8-0 to two-time defending state champion Herbert Hoover.

Warner said Independence “has the best 1 through six” hitters he has faced this season.

Against one of the state’s top schedules – Wyoming East, Hoover, George Washington, Hurricane and Liberty (with freshman phenom hauler Paige Maynard) Ashley Sexton hit .480 (12-25) and Nicole Kester hit .433 (13-30).

Kester has been especially effective in the postseason, going 8 for 12 (.667). Against Wyoming East in the first section matchup she was 4 for 4 and reached third base for times. How many people have done that?

Brehm has given up 31 hits all season.

For the season Kester is hitting .500 and has seven triples, three home runs, 40 runs, 21 RBI (a big total for a leadoff hitter and 22 stolen bases. Kaylen Parks, who had what ended up being the game-winning home run against Wyoming East in a 2-1 regular season victory, is hitting .467, seven home runs and 37 RBI. 

Makenzie Holley is hitting .481 (with 37 hits, all singles), 27 runs and 22 steals and Sexton is hitting .453 with nine doubles, 21 runs and 32 doubles. Ace hurler Savannah Bragg hits .388, Riley Adkins .363 and Meagan Nuckols .346.

And that is against, as Adkins said, one of the toughest schedules in the state, which included six games at the Ripken Experience to go along with all the sate tournament teams he played.

“When I was at the state tournament last year I made an effort to try and schedule every team that played in the tournament and I got about everyone I could except for Washington (from the Eastern Panhandle,” Adkins said. “When you look our line up, 1 through 6, we are hitting .363 or higher and that is against a difficult schedule. The reason is to be where we are. When you have to face on of the top pitchers in the state in your own sectional tournament, ou want to be prepared. I put this schedule together but our girls have stepped up and accepted the challenge. I’m proud of them for that.”

Who will doubt if the Monday’s game comes down to another one-run game?

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During the Wyoming East-Independence section game, between the fourth and fifth innings, when the score was 0-0 ,Adkins came over to the fence and said, “just once I would like an old-fashioned 12-10 shootout.”

The next game out he got just that when his Patriots withstood a home run barrage by Liberty in, yes, a 12-10 shootout.

Liberty hit four home runs in the game, three by Vanessa Wright, who had three home runs coming into the game.

Paige Maynard ended her first season with her first career home run and she struck out seven hitters.

She finished the season with a 19-7 record and 307 strikeouts in 148 innings pitched. Her ERA was 1.28.

Shady Spring awaits the winner of Wyoming East and Independence in the Region 3 championship best-of-three series.

Shady Spring is a team with its own big boppers, led by Bradlea Hayhurst (.623, 20 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 47 RBI and 39 runs) and freshman Olivia Barnett (.544, eight double, a triple, nine home runs, 40 RBI and 32 runs).

Emily Jones (.519), Sandy Mills (.508) Alyssa Lilly (.472) and Brooke Presley (.418) also add to the lineup that packs a punch.

Every team in Region 3 Section 1 won at least 14 games this season. Wyoming East is 22-4, Independence is 20-8, Liberty was 19-7, Westside was 14-11 and Oak Hill was 15-12.

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Brehm has had not just as stellar season but a stellar career.

To date, she has a career record of 75-15 and has pitched 540 innings with 1,155 strikeouts, meaning she averages 2.1 strikeouts per inning, which is running at about the same rate she has averaged this season.

Brehm has 44 shutouts and has given up 159 career hits. Keep in mind on the offensive side she had 156 hits (17 home runs).