PINCKNEYVILLE -- The Pinckneyville Panthers softball team improved to 19-8 Tuesday afternoon with a 12-3 thrashing of Benton in the semifinals of the regional tournament.
With the win, the team now advances to the championship game of the regional at 11 a.m. Saturday in Nashville against the winner of Thursday's game between Waltonville/Sesser-Valier and the host Hornettes.
The Panthers, held scoreless through the first three innings, broke free for two runs in the fourth, six in the fifth and four more in the sixth inning to put the game away. The Rangerettes scored in only one inning -- the sixth -- when three runs crossed the plate.
PCHS pounded out 12 hits to go with its 12 runs. Benton was held to six hits.
Winning pitcher was Taylor Witges. She worked six innings, allowed three runs (all earned) on five hits, struck out five and walked one. Hallie Waggoner hurled the final frame, allowing no runs on one hit with one strikeout and no walks.
Kiley Carter was pitcher of record for th Rangerettes. She worked 5 2/3 innings, surrendering all 12 runs (11 earned) on 12 hits with two strikeouts and one walk. Emily Melvin recorded the final out of the sixth.
Top hitters for the Panthers were Aubrey Bruns (double, single and five runs batted in) and Lauren Jackson with a double, single and four RBIs. Also collecting two hits each were Kiya Hagene and Haliegh Kling. Witges was 1-4 with a triple and RBI.
Benton was led at the plate by Zoe Carlton (double and RBI), Taylor Read, and Carter.
"I thought we played a little tight early on," said PCHS head coach Alan Engelhardt. "For a lot of our kids, this was their first experience being in central roles for a postseason push. Once Taylor Witges tripled to start the fourth inning, and Lauren Jackson followed with a double to knock her in, I thought our kids relaxed. Those are two girls who have been there before, so it was good to see them take the lead for us. Our 9-1-2 in the lineup really set the table for us today, loading the bases to start both the fifth and sixth innings, and our middle-of-the-order did a nice job driving them in, especially Lauren and Aubrey Bruns who combined for 9 RBIs."
Engelhardt said he thought the pitching was "really good aside from one stretch in the sixth."
In that stretch, Witges was tagged for five consecutive hits with two outs.
"Hopefully all the nerves are out now, and we can come out and play our best ball at the beginning on Saturday," Engelhardt said.