EAST PEORIA — Gone.
The ball. The dream. Tuscola's state championship aspirations in softball.
Still remaining for the Warriors: a chance to close out their season with a win and collect the all-time school record for wins in a season.
Following a walkoff home run by Payson Seymour's Megan Boone in the bottom of the seventh in Friday's Class 1A IHSA state semifinal game at East Side Centre, Tuscola was forced to regroup from the 1-0 setback and prepare for today's 9:30 a.m. third-place game against Milledgeville.
"It's so frustrating," senior center fielder Sam Kohlbecker said. "All the stuff we worked so hard for has vanished. Third place is not the same."
For Payson Seymour, the storyline was a home run by a first baseman who hadn't hit any during the team's first 37 games and a pitcher (Cheyanne Bowman) who struck out 18 batters.
For Tuscola, the reason for a 0-0 deadlock after 6 1/2 innings was the play of its defense, in particular Kohlbecker, second baseman Kelsey Cleland, shortstop Sam Ledbetter and third baseman Audrey Mooney. They are four of the six seniors in the starting lineup.
"Defensively, this is one of the better games we've ever played," coach Lenny Sementi said. "We had plays that were unbelievable, but they've done that regularly."
No play was better than the one that ended the fourth inning. Kohlbecker raced to her left, reached over the fence while on the run and robbed Boone of a three-run homer.
"I didn't think it was going over, but as I got there, I saw I needed to get my glove higher," Kohlbecker said.
Sementi acknowledged he had a sinking feeling as the ball left Boone's bat.
"I thought it was over," he said. "She pulled it back in."
In the sixth inning, Ledbetter gunned out Bowman on a ground ball that got past third base and that she fielded near the grass in left field.
"You expect stuff like that out of Ledbetter," Sementi said, "but Sam (Kohlbecker) and Kelsey are ones people don't talk about, but they make plays. Kelsey shows up every day with a smile on her face and makes plays."
The Warriors made enough spectacular stops to impress Payson Seymour coach Karl Asbury.
"Their defense is right up there with what we've seen," Asbury said. "When you have a pitcher (Erin Walker) who is not overpowering, you know they have to play good defense."
Boone, the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning, made certain there would be no outstanding play to prevent her game-winning blast, which came on a one-ball, two-strike pitch.
"It was 5 feet over the fence," Kohlbecker said. "I knew it was gone."
Bowman (31-6), who has 492 strikeouts for the season, fanned the first 12 Warriors she faced.
Tuscola (26-7) had one hit against the right-hander, a two-out single by Carman Comerford in the seventh. Cleanup batter Comerford was also the first Warrior not to strike out, opening the fifth with a popup to the third baseman.
Ledbetter said Bowman's velocity "was average for the conference we play in."
Said Sementi: "Our girls looked in the program and saw she had 474 strikeouts (before Friday) and went up to the plate thinking. A couple swung before the ball left her hand. They said her motion was screwing up their timing."
Ledbetter concurred: "We psyched ourselves out. She was throwing right down the middle."