The East Bay Indians survived three Sickles rallies to win the inaugural Western Conference championship, 6-5.
The most dangerous one came in the top of the seventh, with the host Indians (22-2) clinging to a one-run lead. The Gryphons' Katherine Decker led off with a single, which prompted East Bay coach Glenn Rodriguez to go to his bullpen.
In stepped Mandy Schuerman, who took over from starter Desirae Stratton, who'd been effective (6 IP, 9 H, 8 K, 1 BB) but not untouchable.
"There's a fair amount of pressure," said Schuerman about entering a game in such a crucial situation. "But you have to trust your defense."
Actually, the Indians had been a bit spotty on the night (five errors), but they really stepped up when they had to. Particularly rightfielder Heidi Wendel.
Leah Hussey of Sickles (15-5) greeted Schuerman with a 3-2 single to right, and with pinch runner Angie Millar headed for third, Wendel fired a rocket to third baseman Jessica Dupree. Millar didn't even try to slide. Dupree tagged her out retreating toward second base.
"That was a big play," Rodriguez said. "If they get that runner to third, it's a different situation. They could squeeze, they could do a lot." Hussey did get to third on a wild pitch, but Schuerman struck out the next two hitters she faced to earn her third save, while Stratton upped her record to 7-0.
"This is a comeback team," said Sickles coach Tammy Overcash. "In any given seventh inning we can score runs. What hurt us was that we made a few errors early."
Two in the first inning to be exact. That, along with three East Bay hits, contributed to the Indians grabbing a quick 3-0 lead. They added a run in the fourth before Sickles stormed back for four of its own in the third. Julie Henneke started it off by beating out a bunt as the Gryphons offense was also helped out by four Easy Bay errors in the inning.
In the bottom half of the third, a Wendel double followed by a Dorie Locklear single, then a two-run single by Dupree gave the lead back to the Indians, 6-4. The Gryphons got another run in sixth, but could get no closer.
Despite her shaky start, Sickles pitcher Andrea Springer (7-3) did not allow a hit after the third and finished with three strikeouts and no walks.
In the consolation matchup, Plant (21-6) defeted Gaither (17-5), in five innings, 11-1.