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STILL DEFENDING: St. Anthony tops Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg to win third straight NTC Tournament title

May 6—EFFINGHAM — Still defending.

For the third straight season, the St. Anthony softball team brought the National Trail Conference Tournament trophy back to the Enlow Center — a scene far too common since the senior group of Bulldogs arrived on campus.

"It was really special," senior catcher Maddie Kibler said. "We went out with a bang, which is what Makayla has been wanting us to do. It's bittersweet because it's our last time playing on Evergreen and I'm glad it was a good game."

"It didn't register that it was our last NTC championship game with this group of seniors until Stacie told me in the last inning and I was like, 'Stac, come on now, it's the wrong time to tell me that,'" senior pitcher and infielder Sydney Kibler added. "It's sad, but it's good to check off another box."

One of the hottest teams in the entire state, St. Anthony (22-2) defeated Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg (13-7) for the second time during this three-year stretch in the title game, 8-4.

Mya Friese opened the game for the Hatchets by drawing a walk.

Bulldogs pitcher Sydney Kibler worked around that, though, striking out Samantha Hayes and then getting Alaira Freise to ground out and Erin Althoff to fly out to end the frame.

Addie Wernsing started the bottom half of the first with a base hit. Hailey Niebrugge then reached on an error and Abbi Hatton singled home Wernsing to make it 1-0.

Maddie Kibler then hit a duck-snort base hit to right field that the second baseman and right fielder couldn't collect, scoring Niebrugge and Hatton and making it 3-0.

WSS responded with one in the top of the second.

Kendra Hayes started the frame with a single. Ellie Wittenberg then grounded into a fielder's choice and Clarissa Johnson struck out looking before Ella Kinkelaar hit a triple to right field, scoring Wittenberg to cut the lead to two runs.

Cameron Carey grounded out to strand Kinkelaar on third.

The Bulldogs scored three runs with two outs in the bottom of the second.

Adysen Rios, Wernsing and Niebrugge hit singles to load the stations and Hatton hit a bases-clearing double to left field to make the score.

Kibler then struck out two of the three batters in the top of the third. Samantha Hayes did the same in the bottom half of the frame.

The Hatchets cut the lead to three runs in the top of the fourth.

Althoff drew a walk and Kendra Hayes reached on an error before Johnson hit a one-out double, scoring both runners.

Kinkelaar then lined into a double play after Hatton, the first baseman, caught the line drive and then darted the throw to second to get the runner, trying to slide back to second.

Samantha Hayes recorded three successive ground outs in the bottom of the fourth. Wernsing, who relieved Sydney Kibler, struck out Carey and then got Mya Friese to ground out and Samantha Hayes to fly out to end the inning.

St. Anthony pushed across two more runs in the sixth.

Rios scored Stacie Vonderheide on an RBI triple. She later scored on a wild pitch.

But WSS didn't go away without a fight.

The Hatchets scored one more run in the top of the seventh. Mya Friese started the frame with a walk. Samantha Hayes then allowed her to trot home after an RBI double. Alaira Friese then reached on an error and later moved to second on defensive indifference before the Bulldogs' defense induced a game-ending double play, freshman Julia Schultz providing the clinching forceout.

"Julia fits right in with everything," head coach Makayla Taylor said. "Sometimes, I think it's hard being a freshman and trying to flow into where do I fit and how am I going to adjust. You don't want to feel like you're stepping on toes and it never feels like that. These seniors have taken her under their wings."

"It's cool to play with all the upperclassmen because they're a really good example for all the freshmen and sophomores," Schultz continued.

Hatton led the team with four RBIs to go along with two hits.

"We knew what she had; they knew what we had," she said. "Just being confident and looking for strikes early and scoring early and often was really the key for us."

Wernsing had two hits and two runs scored. Maddie Kibler had one hit and two RBIs. Vonderheide had one hit and one run scored and Hailey Niebrugge had one hit and two runs scored.

"I love winning, especially with this team," Niebrugge said.

Rios, an Eastern Illinois recruit like Hatton, also had two hits to go along with two runs scored and one RBI.

"She goes up there and her mindset is solid," Taylor said. "She knows what to do and where to place the ball. She's a great kid on the bases and she's looking for the next base every single time and her speed is just so killer, too."

Sydney Kibler and Wernsing continued to be a great 1-2 punch in the circle. Kibler went four innings, allowing three hits, three runs (one earned) and two walks to four strikeouts; Wernsing went three innings and allowed four hits, one run and one walk to one strikeout.