GIBSON CITY -- In the first inning of Saturday's IHSA Class 2A Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Regional championship game, Madi Eberle hit a solo home run to center field to give GCMS a 1-0 lead.
In her next at-bat, Bloomington Central Catholic opted to intentionally walk Eberle to lead off the top of the fourth inning. BCC led 2-1 at the time.
“I was a little disappointed that they didn’t give a chance to hit, but my team’s got my back," Eberle said. "They always got my back, so it didn’t really matter.”
The Falcons scored two runs that inning to take a 3-2 lead en route to winning by that same score -- and capturing the GCMS softball program's first regional championship since 2014.
“It feels fantastic. Those girls have worked hard the whole year. In this last week, we really focused on the fundamentals of hitting and fielding," GCMS head coach Kara Smith said. "I told the girls before the game it didn’t have to be a pretty win. It can be the ugliest game that we’ve ever seen, but you guys have got to find a way to win, and they did. They put the ball in play. It was great to watch. It was a great game.”
With one out in the top of the fourth inning, and Eberle still on first base, Lauren Leonard hit a double to right field to put runners on second and third base. In the next at-bat, Maci Bielfeldt bunted to BCC third-baseman Harley Schade.
Eberle crossed home plate via head-first slide to score the tying run on the bunt.
As the throw to home plate from Schade got away from BCC catcher Valerie Feldker on Eberle's slide, Sadie Christensen -- who ran as a courtesy for Leonard -- scored what would be the game-winning run.
“It doesn’t have to be a hit. We can’t be hitting fly balls or home runs every at-bat. You can win off the short game," Smith said. "You’ve just got to find a way to move (baserunners) and find a way to score. Those girls did. They did a great job.”
Schade singled with one out in the bottom of the first inning before Bailey Coffman sent her home with a base hit to center field with two outs to tie the game at 1-1.
Eberle yielded a leadoff walk to Feldker in the bottom of the second inning. Courtney Olsen, Feldker's courtesy runner, advanced to second base on a Scout Paul sacrifice bunt, but Eberle struck out Diane Tomczak and Ivie Juarez bunted out to Eberle to end the inning.
“(Eberle) does need to be better with eliminating those leadoff walks," Smith said. "We let a couple of balls drop. We kind of played on our heels, but once we got past it, they got to it and did it.”
In the bottom of the third inning, Charlie Sartoris reached second base on an error for BCC (24-12) to lead off before advancing to third base on a wild pitch and crossing home plate on a Schade groundout to give the Saints a 2-1 lead. Eberle struck out Kayla Stenger and Coffman to end the inning.
Eberle pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the fourth inning, including two strikeouts. Paul flied out to Hannah Hathaway in left field.
After Eberle struck out Tomczak to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning, Juarez grounded out to Christensen at first base before Sartoris bunted out to Eberle for the third out.
After Schade struck out to start the bottom of the sixth inning, Stenger doubled to center field and Coffman singled to put runners on the corners. Coffman advanced to second base on a defensive indifference, but Eberle struck Izzy Campbell and Feldker out looking to leave the baserunners stranded.
Paul grounded out to GCMS second-baseman Ashley Hyatt to start the bottom of the seventh inning. Izzy Kostelick and Juarez each struck out swinging to conclude the game.
Eberle, a junior Southern Illinois commit, finished her outing on the mound with 13 strikeouts and one walk while allowing two runs -- one earned -- on four hits. For BCC, Coffman pitched a complete game as well, striking out 14 batters and walking three while allowing three earned runs on four hits.
“My teammates played behind me when it counted the most," Eberle said. "They made the best plays for us, and that got us out of the innings, which was pretty big.”
After starting the season by losing its first three games, and four of its first six, GCMS has won 15 of its last 18 games, including seven of its last eight contests.
“They have shown a lot of improvement from day one," said Smith, GCMS's first-year head coach. "We’ve got a lot of young kids stepping up, and we have a lot of upperclassmen who are staying strong, teaching them the ropes and keeping them going strong. Everyone’s doing fantastic. Everyone has a different role on the team, and they all contributed to that win. It was great.”
The Falcons (17-7) advanced to the Stanford Olympia Sectional with Saturday's victory. They will play in the semifinals against Tolono Unity at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“It’s going to be nitty-gritty like it was today," Smith said. "We’re going to have to fight tooth and nail to get this win.”
“I’m so excited," Eberle added. "I’m ready to compete. It feels awesome to win a regional championship."
GCMS 3, Bloomington Central Catholic 2
GCMS 100 200 0 -- 3 4 1
BCC 101 000 0 -- 2 4 0
W -- Madi Eberle, 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, ER, 13 K, BB. L -- Coffman, 7 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 14 K, 3 BB.
GCMS (17-7) -- Madi Eberle 1-1, HR, RBI, 2 R. Lauren Leonard 1-2, 2B, R. Maci Bielfeldt 2 RBIs. Makenzi Bielfeldt 1-3. Ashley Hyatt 1-3.
BCC (24-12) -- Sartoris R. Schade 1-3, RBI, R. Stenger 1-3. Coffman 2-3, RBI.
Stanford (Olympia) Sectional
TUESDAY., May 21
Game 1 at 4:30 p.m.: Tolono Unity vs. GCMS
WEDNESDAY, May 22
Game 2 at 4:30 p.m.: Olympia vs. St. Joseph-Ogden
SATURDAY, May 25
Game 3 at 11 a.m.: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2