Ashley Peters was running on fumes in the seventh inning of Saturday's Class 4A United Township Regional.
Leading United Township 8-3 heading into that final frame, Peters got a quick out but allowed a double to Alexis DeFrieze after an extended at bat. After a fly out to center, singles by Makenna Wessels and Vanessa Oliva made it 8-4 with runners at the corners and two out.
Cleanup hitter Kyra Schumaker drilled a ball to deep right center that appeared at first to be headed out of the park, but RI right fielder Heather Motley raced into the gap and grabbed the deep shot to secure the Rocks' second straight regional title.
"I would say I am probably not in as good a shape as I was last year at this time because of all the rain and weather," Peters said. "That last inning was tough. I just had to stay relaxed and let my defense make the plays.
"I knew (Schumaker) hit that well, but I turned around and wasn't too worried because I saw Heather had a lot of room."
"She hasn't thrown a lot in a while, and she only threw 42 pitches in the regional game Tuesday," said Rock Island coach Chris Allison. "It is also tougher and more pressure this year after winning it all last year. That great at-bat by DeFrieze really took a lot out of her."
The Rocks (28-4) advance to the Normal Community Sectional where they will play another Western Big Six rival, Moline, on Tuesday. That game will be moved to United Township at 4:30.
The Panthers bow out at 16-14. UT coach John Alonzo was proud of the way his team battled from the game's outset to the final out. However, he also knows his team didn't do itself any favors with four errors, three hit batters, three passed balls and a wild pitch.
"They kept battling, and I told them that is what makes us coaches feel good," Alonzo said. "That long at-bat by Alexis was what this team is all about. That said, we also told them that we gave them way too much.
"Rocky is really good, and you just cannot give a team like that extra outs and extra bases."
The Rocks got four runs in the first inning needing just one hard-hit ball. Peters lined a single up the middle to plate the first run. Madison Michaels hit a soft grounder to right to score two runs, and a third came home on an error.
"That was a big help," Peters said. "I think that settled all of us down."
Said Alonzo, "They scored four runs, barely hit the ball, and we just looked tight. That's softball, and we couldn't get over that."
Rock Island added to the lead in the third on a walk and freshman Taylor Pannell's towering home run that nearly wasn't. Wessells got back to the fence, jumped as high as she could and grabbed the drive. However, when she came down her arm hit the fence, and the ball popped out of her glove for the homer.
"I really didn't think I got all of it," said Pannell, who had two hits, scored three times and drove in three runs. "I just took off running when I hit it. Everyone told me about the play when I got back to the dugout.
"I just took this as another game, that's the way coach Allison tells us to do it. We just tried to grind it out and get the win."
UT cut the lead to 6-3 with one in the fifth on a Brandi LaFountaine (two hits) single and two in the sixth on an Oliva (two hits) single, a Schumaker (three hits) double, a sacrifice fly and a ground out.
The Rocks then came back with two big runs in the sixth on a single by Abbie Bush (two hits), a bunt, an RBI hit by Pannell, her second steal, a ground out and a wild pitch.
"That's why it is so important to keep adding after that first inning," Allison said. "We kept working our at bats and finding ways to score runs."