Walton helps Eagles soar

Walton helps Eagles soar

RANTOUL — This could have proven frustrating to Madisyn Walton and her Rantoul softball teammates.

Going from a No. 5 seed in the Class 3A postseason last year to a No. 9 seed this time around, despite graduating just three seniors from the 2018 Eagles outfit.

It's not exactly the anticipated outcome, on paper.

To Walton, however, this downward shift is no big deal.

"Just (offers) more time to be with (my teammates) and just getting to play as many games as we can with each other," Walton said.

The junior had a significant say in making sure Rantoul garnered at least one more opportunity to take the diamond this season.

Walton bashed a three-run homer into a large tree in left-center field during Monday's 3A Rantoul Regional quarterfinal, putting the Eagles ahead for good in an 8-3 victory over No. 10 Urbana at Wabash Park.

"That was the most important hit of the entire season for us," Rantoul coach Travis Flesner said. "Arguably our best hitter, and for her to come through, the weight was off everybody's shoulders."

The Eagles (12-17) trailed the Tigers (12-15) by a 3-1 margin entering the fifth inning, thanks in large part to junior Raevyn Russell.

From the pitching circle, Russell limited Rantoul to a Mackenzie Tome solo home run over the first four innings. The volleyball and basketball standout also clubbed her own three-run homer that clanged off a light tower in the top of the third.

"She has been our best offensive player all season long," Urbana boss Bill Harmon said of Russell. "And then when she's pitching, she has gotten to a point where her pitching does not take away from her hitting. Earlier in the year, if she was pitching she didn't hit."

But the Eagles finally got to Russell en masse during their third and fourth at-bats against the hurler.

Jerzie Grob contributed an RBI single shortly after Walton's smash, and Rantoul added three insurance tallies in the sixth on a Bella Shields bases-loaded walk and a two-run single from Jenna Sanford.

"Just going into regionals, everybody's a bit jittery and just not wanting to mess up," Walton said. "Just hitting that (home run) opened doors for our whole team."

The Tigers possessed plenty of chances to respond but were almost always thwarted.

The catcher Shields threw out two different Urbana athletes trying to steal bases over the first two frames. Eagles pitcher Lexi Sherrick then stranded two Tigers in the fifth and started a double play in the sixth by snaring a hot shot off the bat of Courtney Fouke.

"You can't hit a ball any better than that," Harmon said. "Give Rantoul all the credit in the world. They just made a couple more plays than we did and hit the ball a little farther than we did."

Harmon felt his girls deserved more than their sub-.500 ledger and early playoff exit.

"We have been in every single one (of our games)," he said. "Our record isn't what it could or should be, but this team has been fun to watch and I'm sorry to see it end."

The Eagles aren't packing up for the summer just yet, now preparing for a quick turnaround today to face No. 2 Mt. Zion (25-4-1) in a regional semifinal.

Flesner acknowledged his pupils "almost need to be perfect" versus the Braves, especially on the defensive side of the game.

Even if some hiccups do occur, Walton and company are ready to face them head on.

"Just staying positive and making sure that we stay on top of the game (is key)," Walton said. "Never getting down and never losing sight of our main goal."