Graver's crucial double helps Spartans nab sectional title

Graver's crucial double helps Spartans nab sectional title

GIBSON CITY — Pressure situations don't seem to faze Emmy Graver.

But watching Bailey Dowling receive an intentional walk just before Graver steps into the batter's box does stoke some emotions from the St. Joseph-Ogden senior third baseman.

"It makes me so mad," Graver said with a laugh. "I go up there and know that I have to get a hit. I hate that so much."

Graver could laugh about the situation after delivering the key hit for SJ-O during the Spartans' 6-2 win against Maroa-Forsyth at Saturday's sweltering Class 2A Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Sectional title game.

Graver's two-run double to center field off Maroa-Forsyth pitcher Kate Beckemeyer with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning increased SJ-O's lead to 5-2.

"I went up there taking my time at the plate because I knew it would make the pitcher all frazzled," Graver said. "I stepped up there pretty confident. I was looking for contact and took advantage of her mistake."

One batter later, SJ-O sophomore catcher Hannah Dukeman drilled a double into left field, scoring Graver and giving SJ-O an insurmountable 6-2 lead.

"I was ready to hit the ball," Dukeman said, "and I knew we needed as many runs as possible, so I was confident."

Confidence flows from this particular SJ-O group that won the program's 12th sectional title overall and fourth in a row.

It marks the first time in coach Randy Wolken's 39-year tenure leading the Spartans that SJ-O has reached a super-sectional game four straight years.

SJ-O (32-3) faces Williamsville (32-5) at 11 a.m. Monday in Athens, with a spot to the state tournament on the line.

"A lot of it is our seniors," Wolken said. "That's an indication of how much they mean to our program. Just to go to the super-sectional one time in your career is something, and the fact they're going four years, that's really remarkable."

SJ-O staked itself to a 3-1 lead after the first inning and never trailed the rest of the game against the Trojans (27-7). Graver came through in the first inning, too, with a bloop single into left field to score Dowling and put SJ-O ahead 2-1.

Dowling, who leads the area with 20 home runs and 68 RBI, is SJ-O's No. 3 hitter, with Graver behind her in the cleanup spot. After Dowling singled in the first and doubled in the third, Maroa-Forsyth intentionally walked her in the fifth after Frankie Izard drew a walk to start the fifth-inning rally.

It's not like Graver, one of SJ-O's captains, isn't talented. Signed to play at Illinois State next season, the four-year starter for the Spartans carried a .548 average and 42 RBI into Saturday's game.

"I love it when they walk Bailey because I know we're going to have people on base with good speed, and Emmy comes through," Wolken said. "Before the playoffs started, I counted this up. They had walked Bailey 16 times and Emmy had gotten hits in 13 of those at-bats. It seems like she just lifts her attitude and I told her, 'This is like them slapping you in the face, thinking that you can't beat them.' She picks it up even more."

Add in the fact Graver delivered the only RBI in SJ-O's 1-0 sectional title victory against Eureka in 2017, and late May isn't a time where Graver shies away from the limelight.

"It's so crucial to have someone who can pick up right behind Bailey," SJ-O senior right fielder Allie Place said. "We always know Emmy is going to get clutch hits."