FREEPORT — The IVCC softball team knew it needed to stop Sauk Valley cleanup hitter Kelsey Hagan on Sunday.
Knowing and doing, however, are two different things.
After the Lady Eagles won two games Saturday at the NJCAA Division II District 4A Tournament, IVCC needed just one win Sunday to advance to the Division II national tournament.
Hagan kept the Lady Eagles from their goal.
In two must-win games for Sauk Valley in Sunday’s championship round, Hagan had eight RBIs and hit three home runs, including a game-changing solo homer in the sixth inning of Sunday’s second game.
After the Skyhawks beat IVCC 10-3 in the first game, Hagan’s home run tied the winner-take-all second game.
No. 3-seeded Sauk Valley used the momentum to add two more runs in sixth as it rallied to stun the No. 2-seeded Lady Eagles 6-4 to advance to the national tournament.
“They have one hitter on the team who just destroyed us,” IVCC coach Cory Tomasson said. “We just couldn’t get her out. Our pitchers would miss here and there with some pitches and she made us pay. She is just a good hitter.”
On Saturday, IVCC beat Sauk Valley 5-4 and then had an 8-7 walk-off victory over Waubonsee to advance to Sunday’s title game.
Needing just one win to advance to their first national tournament under Tomasson, the Lady Eagles watched Sauk Valley eliminate No. 4-seeded Waubonsee with a 3-0 victory Sunday morning.
Then, in the afternoon, Hagan’s hot bat helped power Sauk Valley.
In the first of two games on Sunday, her first-inning RBI-single gave Sauk Valley a 1-0 lead.
Hagan later added a three-run home run in the fourth to put away the game.
With IVCC still needing just one victory to win the tournament, Hagan hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the first off Lady Eagle pitcher Karly Huss to give Sauk Valley the early lead.
Down, IVCC was far from out.
After the home run, Huss settled in as the Lady Eagles offense came alive.
A first-inning RBI groundout by Lindsey Schmitz pulled IVCC to 3-1, and a second-inning solo home run by Brynn Johnson made it 3-2.
In the fourth, back-to-back RBI singles by Huss and lead-off hitter and center fielder Olivia Harcar completed the rally and gave IVCC a 4-3 advantage, which was its first lead of the day.
“We came from behind (Saturday) night so the kids do a good job of rallying and winning when we’re down,” Tomasson said. “In fact, most of the year, we’re chasing runs. The kids didn’t give up. They are a dedicated team.”
With Huss tiring in the bottom of the sixth, Hagan hit the solo home run to tie the game.
“(We thought about walking Hagan), but at the same time, she had just made an out the at-bat before,” Tomasson said. “She got out on a hit-and-run. We thought about it, but the girl behind her had been hitting pretty well so we didn’t want to give that away either. We gambled a little bit and we just missed our spot and she hit the home run.”
After the homer, Tomasson removed Huss and brought in ace Katie Nauman, who in her first two pitches hit the first two batters she faced.
Nauman worked around the miscues as she had runners at second and third with two outs.
However, pitcher Kiera Kaleel hit a two-out dribble up the middle to drive in the go-ahead runs that gave Sauk Valley a 6-4 lead.
“The two back-to-back hit by pitches can’t happen,” Tomasson said. “It hurts you every single time when you put somebody on, whether you walk them or hit them. Mentally, it just got us down a little bit. Katie did an amazing job throughout the year, but that’s just something where you need strikes at that point.”
Kaleel then threw a scoreless seventh inning to seal the Skyhawks’ victory.
It completed an all-around standout day for Kaleel, who earned the win in all three Sauk Valley games on Sunday.
After Kaleel beat Waubonsee on Sunday morning to advance the Skyhawks into the title series, she pitched in relief in the first game against IVCC.
With Game 1 tied at 2-2 in the second inning, Kaleel came on in relief and shut down the IVCC offense.
In the game, she allowed one earned run — which came with two outs in the seventh — on six hits in 5 1/3 innings.
After sitting to start the second game, Kaleel was brought in with two outs in the fourth.
With IVCC rallying to take a 4-3 lead, Kaleel shut out the Eagles the rest of the way.
In relief in Game 2, she allowed one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up the win.
“We’ve had trouble with her every time this season,” Tomasson said. “We just did not adjust. We saw this girl for (8 2/3 innings today), and it was the fourth time we’ve seen her this season. All of our girls get up and crowd the plate and get jammed, so we have ground balls or we pop up.”
In the first game, Schmitz finished with two hits for IVCC, which committed five errors in the opener.
In the second game, Johnson had two hits, scored twice and drove in a run for the Lady Eagles.
Jared Bell be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.