By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY —After a three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth by Kaitlyn Stocker — her third in less than a week — made it a seven-run game, Tippecanoe seemed ready to put an early end to Tuesday’s opening-round action.
After Bellefontaine plated four in the top of the fifth to cut the Red Devils’ lead to 8-5, those chances looked slim.
Yeah, about that …
No. 5 Tippecanoe scored seven runs in the bottom of the fifth — including four with two outs — as senior Bri Eichbaum provided the exclamation point with a walkoff two-run single to give the Devils a 15-5 run-rule victory over the ninth-seeded Chieftains in five innings to kick off the Division II sectional tournament Tuesday at Tippecanoe Middle School.
“They got four in the top of the fifth in an inning where just everything went wrong. One bad inning, that’s been our weakness all year,” Tippecanoe softball coach Clay Lavercombe said. “But we bounced right back after that. I don’t care what you say, scoring seven in an inning to end a game early is impressive.”
And Tippecanoe, now 16-11 and winner of four of its last five, was out to impress, too.
“Last year, we lost in the opening round here at home to Northwestern — who we’ll play Thursday,” Lavercombe said. “We wanted to make a statement tonight. The girls played great. We just came out hitting.”
Bri Eichbaum and Stephanie Kraska hit back-to-back doubles in the first inning to give Tipp the lead, then the Devils got three more in the second to go up 4-0 as wild pitch and an error on a pickoff throw scored a pair of runs, then Kraska hit an RBI single with two outs. And in the third, Rachel Rusk hit a two-out double to drive in a run and stake the Devils out to a 5-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Eichbaum was cruising on the mound, striking out six in the first three innings. A two-out triple by Jazmyn Haley and a dropped fly ball led to Bellefontaine’s first run of the game in the top of the fourth, but Stocker hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning — again with two outs — to make it an 8-1 game and put Tippecanoe three more runs away from an early night.
Stocker hit her first homer of the year in a win at Troy on May 7, then two days later she hit a grand slam on the road against the same Bellefontaine team she faced Tuesday.
“Three in a week, and that was our first home run here at home all season,” Lavercombe said. “All of our other ones have been on the road.
“It seems like when we’re hitting well, we’re hitting with two outs. Or two strikes. Or with runners in scoring position. The girls did an awesome job tonight.”
But Bellefontaine — which Tippecanoe swept two games from during the regular season — didn’t give up. Bailey Smith led off the fifth with a double, was bunted to third and scored on a wild pitch. A walk and back-to-back singles by Jenna Vanhoose and Carley Strzalzka loaded the bases, but Eichbaum got her seventh strikeout of the game for the first out. A walk to Haley brought in another run, then two more came in on a wild pitch and an error on the throw home, and suddenly the Chieftains were within three at 8-5.
Eichbaum got her eighth strikeout of the game to finish the inning, and that would be the last she needed. She gave up five hits and two walks in the game.
“Bri was great,” Lavercombe said. “They started putting the ball in play after a while, and as a coach you kind of want that to happen sometimes when your pitcher’s piling up strikeouts, just to see if your defense is still awake. And we only made one error in the game, so that was good.”
The it was the Devils’ turn in the bottom of the fifth.
Cassie Gingerich bunted for a single to lead off, then a single by Kraska (4 for 4, double, two RBIs) and an error loaded the bases with one out. A dropped fly ball brought in a pair of runs and an RBI single by Stocker (4 for 4, home run, four RBIs) made it 11-5 before the Chieftains recorded the second out.
Ashley Bruce (2 for 4, RBI) and Rusk (2 for 4, double, two RBIs) hit back-to-back run-scoring singles, and Gingerich was hit by a pitch to load the bases and bring up Eichbaum — who promptly singled up the middle to score two runs and finish off the game.
Of Tippecanoe’s 15 runs, eight came with two outs.
Tippecanoe will travel to No. 2 Northwestern — which defeated Urbana 14-4 in the opening round — Thursday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 440-5251 or email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.