PAXTON -- Paxton-Buckley-Loda head softball coach Kelli Vaughn saw a sign of improvement on Friday.
One year after losing 13-1 to Villa Grove, PBL lost to Villa Grove once again on Friday by a much closer score -- 8-7.
"So for us to play them to seven (innings) and have a chance to win it in the bottom of the seventh inning just shows you how far these kids have come," Vaughn said.
The Panthers rallied back from an 8-3 deficit with four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Christina White hit an infield single and Baylee Cosgrove doubled with one out before Maddy Foellner doubled to center field to send White and Cosgrove across home plate.
After Sindra Gerdes singled to center field, Emma Steiner hit a two-out single to right field to send Foellner and Gerdes across home plate.
Prior to the sixth inning, PBL rallied back from a 4-0 deficit with two runs in the second inning and one in the fifth.
Kayla Adwell drew a one-out walk in the second inning before Steiner singled to center field and Jaden Bender drew another walk to load the bases. Carly Mutchmore then reached base on an error that led to Adwell crossing home plate before Steiner scored on a wild pitch.
Cosgrove -- who finished the game hitting 3-for-4 -- singled to right field to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning and Foellner -- who also hit 3-for-4 -- singled to center field to put runners on the corners before Gerdes grounded into a double play, sending Cosgrove across home plate.
"It was a good ballgame," Vaughn said. "We battled back again. That's kind of been the mark of the team throughout this year. We get down, and we're not afraid to get up there and hit the ball play after play."
Villa Grove's Jordyn Roy struck out Carly Mutchmore, Lorena Arnett and White in the bottom of the seventh inning to end the game.
"We just said we need one person to get on base so we can get to Baylee (Cosgrove) and Maddy (Foellner) in the middle of the lineup, and it just didn't happen, but it wasn't for us not trying," Vaughn said.
Steiner -- who hit 2-for-3 at the plate -- took the loss on the mound for PBL despite not allowing one earned run. She yielded eight unearned runs on 10 hits and two walks with three strikeouts through all seven innings.
"I thought Emma pitched a really good game tonight," Vaughn said.
In the top of the first inning, Roy bunted and reached base on an error and Reagan Cheely singled to center field before Madison Burwell sent Roy home with an infield single. Cheely then scored on a steal of home plate to extend Villa Grove's lead to 2-0.
In the second inning, Vanessa Wright singled to center field and Ragin Baker before Maris Eversole doubled to left field to send Wright and Baker across home plate.
Baker reached base on an error to lead off the top of the sixth inning. After Roy walked, Kyleigh Block reached base on another error, sending Baker across home plate.
Cheely walked before Madison Burwell singled to center field to send Roy and Block across home plate. Molly Mixell sent Cheely home with a sacrifice fly.
The Panthers' defense finished the game with six errors.
"We've struggled a little bit defensively this week, and we had a couple of miscues tonight, but we just bouncing back and picking each other up," Vaughn said. "I really liked the kids' attitude tonight. I thought they were all in. They seemed to be loose."
Friday's game served as PBL's regular-season finale as its attendance included members of a local youth softball team waiting to practice afterwards.
"It was a nice atmosphere. We had a lot of kids out here. We had the young kids out here waiting to practice. It was nice to put in a good effort in front of these younger softball players who are out here working to someday be a varsity softball player. We just want to set a good exampe for those younger kids because we want them to play softball at PBL and have some success," Vaughn said.
"My kids know that they're role models for those younger kids, and for them to come here in the last home game of the season and play well and give the fans something to cheer about says a lot about how far we've come. We did come up short, but these kids know that we're turning the corner, and I keep telling them that we're going to win a lot of ballgames here pretty soon. As long as they believe that and work hard in the offseason, I think that's going to happen next season. I'm just proud to coach those kids."
On Monday, PBL will travel to face Hoopeston Area at 4:30 p.m. in the first round of IHSA Class 2A regionals. The winner will face Bloomington Central Catholic in the semifinals of the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Regional in Gibson City.
The Panthers lost to Hoopeston Area 13-5 on March 19 in their previous matchup against the Cornjerkers.
"We didn't play particularly well that night. We've come a long way since that week. We had a lot of indoor practices when we played Hoopeston (last time), and I think we have a lot more confidence at the plate than we had when we played Hoopeston that first week of the season," Vaughn said.
"I think our kids are going to get up there and swing the bat, and hopefully, good things will happen. We need to put together a good defensive effort, but we know we're playing for our lives. I don't want this season to end. Every extra night that we can have to continue to work toward the future is just a bonus for us. We're not going there just to play the game. Our plan is to go and win the game on Monday night so we can see Bloomington Central Catholic on Tuesday."
Villa Grove 8, PBL 7
VG 220 004 0 -- 8 10 2
PBL 020 014 0 -- 7 12 6
L -- Emma Steiner, 7 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 0 ER, 3 K, 2 BB.
Villa Grove 1-4, 2 R. Kyleigh Block 1-4, R. Reagan Cheely 1-3, 2 R. Madison Burwell 3-4, 3 RBIs. Molly Mixell RBI. Vanessa Wright 2-4, R. Ragin Baker 1-4, 2 R. Maris Eversole 1-4, 2B, 2 RBIs.
PBL (9-16) -- Lorena Arnett 1-5. Christina White 1-5, R. Baylee Cosgrove 3-4, 2B, 2 R. Maddy Foellner 3-4, 2B, 2 RBIs. Sindra Gerdes 1-4, R. Kayla Adwell R, 2 BB. Emma Steiner 2-3, 2 RBIs, R. Jaden Bender 1-3. Carly Mutchmore RBI.