CAMP POINT, Ill. -- Jacey Nall believes Saturday's Class 1A sectional championship game can be used as a way to measure how much the Central softball team improved this season.
"We improved so much, especially in the little parts of the game," said Nall, one of the Panthers' four seniors. "Early in the season, I'm not sure if we could've given (Hardin) Calhoun the game we did today. I'm just so impressed with how this team improved."
A run in the top of the third inning was all Calhoun needed to beat Central 1-0. The Warriors (31-6) advance to the super-sectional and will play Stewardson-Strasburg -- a 5-0 winner over Toledo Cumberland -- at 11 a.m. Monday at the Land of Lincoln Junior Olympic Softball Complex in Springfield.
The Panthers, who had four sophomores and a freshman in their starting lineup, finished 21-10. It was the fourth straight year Central ended the season with a loss to Calhoun.
The Warriors stranded two runners in the top of the first inning, but they scored in the third.
Freshman Lucy Kallal led off the third with a bunt single. The next batter, Emily Baalman, hit the ball to Nall in the pitching circle. Nall looked to throw Kallal out at second but elected to get the out at first. Her throw went past first baseman Jesse Grawe, allowing Baalman and Kallal to advance to second and third.
Ashleigh Presley's groundout to Nall drove in Kallal for a 1-0 lead. Sydney Baalman grounded into a fielder's choice, and Emily Baalman was caught in a rundown between third base and home.
Nall got out of the jam by striking out Sophie Lorton for one of her 11 strikeouts.
"I don't mind 1-0 games as long as that one run comes early," Calhoun coach Duane Sievers said. "We played defense today. Sydney had only six strikeouts, so that means we had to make 15 putouts."
Sydney Baalman settled in during the next three innings. She retired 10 straight batters until Makayla Crim's leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth.
One out later, Nall reached on a fielder's choice, moving Crim to second. Kennady Marlow popped up an 0-1 pitch along the third-base line. Sydney Baalman couldn't make the catch but Emily Baalman, the catcher, slid in under Sydney Baalman to snag the ball for the second out.
Sydney Baalman then got Grawe to fly out to center field to end the inning.
"The sun got in both of their eyes a little bit on that play," Sievers said of Emily Baalman's putout. "They relied on each other out there. That's what it's all about."
Facing Sydney Baalman was a little different for the Panthers after falling victim to all-stater and current University of Kentucky pitcher Grace Baalman the past three years.
"It was nice to know Grace was out of it," Central coach Amy Hildebrand said. "But (Sydney Baalman) made the pitches and plays she needed to. After we graduated the players we did last year, we needed some different players to step up. I think they responded all season and today."
Nall, who will play at Lincoln Land Community College next year, is anxious to see what next year's team will look like.
"The underclassmen stepped up and did what they needed to this year," she said. "I can't wait to see what next year's team will be like. I think the future is pretty bright."
Class 1A Central Sectional
Hardin Calhoun 1, Central 0
Calhoun 001 000 0--1 4 0
Central 000 000 0--0 4 1
Sy. Baalman and E. Baalman; Nall and Wear. WP -- Sy. Baalman. LP -- Nall. 2B -- Calhoun 1 (Oswald).