Happy ending: Dramatic win in final game on field precedes regional loss

Pete Temple
Express Sports Editor

It was fitting that the final game played on the Monticello High School softball field was one of its most memorable. 


And that the game went into extra innings – almost as if the field wasn’t ready to be done yet. 


In the end, Sydney Hansen’s double into the left-centerfield gap scored Aspen Gillmore with the winning run, giving the Panthers a dramatic 10-9 Class 3A regional quarterfinal win over Center Point-Urbana July 10. 


Three times, the Panthers found themselves down by four runs or more. Monticello trailed from the time CP-U scored two runs in the top of the first inning until the bottom of the seventh, when the Panthers mounted a four-run rally to send an 8-4 game into extra innings. 


“They have been a never-get-down type of team, and I think it showed in that game,” Monticello coach Bret McDonald said. “That’s been the case throughout the whole season.” 


Even then, the Panthers fell behind once more, in the top of the ninth, but scored twice in the bottom half to give the varsity field a proper sendoff. 


That the Panthers went on to lose 12-0 to Davenport Assumption in the regional semifinals July 12 in Davenport only slightly dampened the joy from the memorable win over CP-U. 


“It was special for them, and for the people that were there,” coach McDonald said. “Just the situation, with it being the last game ever to be played there. It’s something they’ll never forget.” 


CP-U took a quick 4-0 lead, scoring two runs in each of the first two innings, including a two-run homer by Ryah Bergeron in the first inning and a two-run single by Olivia Perez in the second. 


Monticello cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the second. Jordan Kuper was hit by a pitch, Jaelyn Aitchison doubled to right-centerfield – one of three doubles for the eighth-grader on the night. Tori McDonald then singled to left to drive Kuper home, and Maddie Fellinger followed with a sacrifice fly out to right, scoring Aitchison. 


CP-U’s 4-2 lead held up until the fifth, when the Stormin’ Pointers scored three times to take a 7-2 advantage. 


The Panthers trimmed the margin again in the sixth, on singles by Kuper and McDonald, and a two-run double by Maddie Fellinger to make it 7-4. 


The Stormin’ Pointers were on the verge of closing out the game after Reagan Schutte hit a solo homer in the top of the seventh, giving CP-U an 8-4 advantage. 


Monticello then produced its most significant rally of the season, scoring four times to tie the game. Reese Cox led off with a double to right-center, and

Sydney Hansen singled to put runners on second and third. An error on a ball hit by Jaelyn Kraus brought Cox home, making it 8-5 with nobody out and runners on first and second. 


Kuper’s sharp line drive was snared by third baseman Bergeron for the first out of the inning. Aitchison then hit a two-run single to center, scoring Hansen and Kraus and pulling the Panthers within one run. 


After a ground out, Maddie Fellinger singled to center, scoring Aitchison and tying the game. It went into extra innings with the score tied 8-8. 


Both teams had big chances in the next two innings. In the bottom of the eighth, the Panthers had bases loaded with one out, but couldn’t close the game out. 


In the top of the ninth, CP-U loaded the bases with none out. Two consecutive grounders to shortstop McDonald resulted in to force-outs at the plate; catcher Lainy Fellinger scooped the second of those out of the dirt. 


Kora Katcher hit an RBI single to put the Stormin’ Pointers ahead 9-8, but relief pitcher Cox struck out the next batter, and the Panthers escaped a potentially disastrous inning allowing just a single run.


That was erased quickly, as McDonald hit an 0-2 pitch off the scoreboard beam beyond the leftfield fence for a solo home run, tying the game 9-9. 


“I just saw it and I swung, and I was like, all right, that felt good,” McDonald said after the game. 


After two outs, Aspen Gillmore singled just as steady rain began to fall. There was a brief discussion about whether to continue or delay the game, but the umpires ruled it would continue. McDonald said both coaches agreed to have it continue, as the rain was letting up. He said stopping the game might have hurt the Panthers. 


“I really felt like we had them on the ropes, and I was afraid the rain was going to be a momentum-crusher,” the coach said. 


When play resumed, Cox was hit by a pitch, putting runners at first and second. Both moved up on a passed ball, and then Hansen, with the rain still coming down, roped a double to the left-center gap to score Gillmore and give the Panthers the walkoff win. 


“I was just trying to focus and keep my head in the game to try and get my teammates home,” Hansen said afterward. “(With) runners on second and third, you’ve got to put a ball in play, make contact, anything to try to get them to score. Whatever happened, happened, and I got a good piece of the ball.” 


Monticello totaled 16 hits, including three each from Gillmore, Aitchison and McDonald. Maddie Fellinger and Hansen had two hits apiece. 


Kraus pitched the first five innings, and Cox worked the final four to pick up the win. 


“Everyone contributed, up and down the lineup, whether on offense or defense,” the coach said. “It was really a huge team win.” 


Top-ranked Assumption 

eliminates Panthers 

Monticello didn’t get to enjoy the CP-U win for long; two days later the Panthers were in Davenport to face Assumption, the top-ranked team in Class 3A. 


The Knights lived up to the billing, scoring three runs in each of the first two innings and going on to a 12-0 win in four innings. 

Assumption closed out the game with six runs in the bottom of the fourth. 


“They have a ton of talent,” coach McDonald said. “Up and down the lineup they hit the ball, defensively they’re good, and their pitcher (Alli Timmons) is an all-state pitcher. 


“We did make some mistakes on defense, but they just put so much pressure on you defensively, because they can bunt, they can hit for power, they can just do so many different things. It just feels like they’re on top of you all the time.” 


Timmons pitched a no-hitter in the game, striking out nine Panthers. 


There was a play in the bottom of the second inning that may have accelerated Assumption’s control. Leading 3-0, an Assumption batter attempted a bunt that went foul. Coach McDonald argued that the batter had left the batter’s box before contacting the ball, which would have been an out. 


“I thought she was clearly out of the box,” the coach said. “It would have been the end of the inning. They had runners on second and third when she did it, and the next pitch, she hit to the fence. That was a big turning point for us there.” 


Kraus and Cox were the Panther pitchers. 


Monticello ended its season with a record of 14-23, including 5-13 in the River Valley Conference. 


“Overall I was pretty happy with the way it went,” McDonald said. “Only one team is happy at the end of the year. By far, it was one of my best teams as far as getting along the whole season. They really enjoyed playing with each other. And they communicated well with me and coach (Kim) McQuillen.” 


It was the final game for seniors Maddie Fellinger, Gillmore, Hansen and Kraus. 


“Aspen, Sydney and Jaelynn have been my five-year kids. To me that just shows a lot about their character,” the coach said. “And for Maddie to really find that, ‘Hey, I miss the sport,’ and to come back, was great too.” 



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