EAST PEORIA—North Fulton softball stood toe-to-toe with defending state champion Goreville for almost the entirety of Friday's Class 1A State Semifinal. It wasn't until the final pitch of the contest that the Wildcats blinked.

EAST PEORIA—North Fulton softball stood toe-to-toe with defending state champion Goreville for almost the entirety of Friday’s Class 1A State Semifinal. It wasn’t until the final pitch of the contest that the Wildcats blinked. 

 

A Cheyenne Walker bleeder up the middle scored Payton Sopczak for the game’s first, and only, run to give Goreville a 1-0 win and deny North Fulton a chance for their first state title.

 

“We tried not to talk about them being the defending state champs but the girls knew,” North Fulton head coach Melanie Hanlin said. “As far as we’re concerned that was the state title game. That was a phenomenal ballgame and we have nothing to be ashamed of.”

 

North Fulton’s Jessica Young and Goreville’s Lexi King were dominant in the circle finishing with 10 and 17 strikeouts respectively. King struck out 12 of the final 13 batters.

 

The Wildcats’ best opportunity of the game came in the third inning when Lexi Hanlin singled with runners on first and second and two out. Sloan Miller rounded third on the play but was held up by coach Hanlin leaving the bases loaded. King worked a strikeout of the next hitter to get out of the jam.

 

“Early on we had watched the center fielder’s arm and she had cannon. The throw was on target and that’s why I was yelling to get back. But right now I’m kicking myself for not sending (Miller),” coach Hanlin said.

 

After the threat ended the Wildcats (18-5) never put another runner on base, with King deploying more and more changeups as the game went along.

 

“It was a little tough to adjust. We had her speed down so they started to throw the off speed a lot more. She has a tough changeup,” coach Hanlin said.

 

Goreville (24-10) left a pair of runners stranded in the fifth and came up empty with another runner in scoring position in the sixth. In the seventh, Sopczak reached on a bloop single that North Fulton center fielder Addy Williams had in her grasp momentarily before losing possession while completing a dive. 

 

Two batters later Walker hit the dribbler past the rubber that brought in the winning run.

 

Goreville will play the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between Argenta-Oreana and Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg with North Fulton taking on the loser in the third place game at 10 a.m.

 

“I feel pretty good. The girls are keeping their heads up. We have to shake it off and come back tomorrow with a win,” coach Hanlin said.