FULTON, Ill. - The Fulton softball team traded their usual red and black in for blue on Friday night, and for a good reason.
The Steamers welcomed the Panthers from Erie-Prophetstown in their annual Red Line - Blue Line game, honoring police, fire and first responders. Fulton's blue uniform were for the police side of things, while the Panthers donned red for the fire.
"It's very important. It's not about softball, it's more about the men and women who serve and protect our communities," Fulton coach Jessie Rosenow said. "We want to show them that we care. It's about more than softball tonight."
The area sent a variety of personnel to be a part of the tradition. EMTs, fire fighters, police officers and more escorted players out for introductions and hosted their vehicles in the outfield, complete with the sirens going off right before first pitch.
"Both squads come out and we have a ton of fun," Rosenow said. "We bring a great crowd out here and it's just a fun night."
The game itself was won by the Steamers 6-4. On the field and at the plate, the Steamers just clicked all night.
"We have a lot of discussion lately about the turning point in the season," Rosenow said. " I think tonight it happened for us. We gained a lot of confidence."
It started off a little rocky, with go-to pitcher Liz Fish allowing four runs in the first two innings. It was uncharacteristic from the steadfast twirler, but the Steamer offense and Steamer bench seemed unphased by the deficit.
"It is maturity," Rosenow said. "We want to bend and not break. Tonight we definitely did that."
The Steamers started things off with a solo blast from Kylee Sweenie in the bottom of the first. Mariah Underwood then singled up the middle and came home on a line drive to left field from Emily Banker.
By the home half of the third, they were still trailing 4-2. Sweenie reached base and worked her way around, eventually making it home on a groundout by Faith Ottens and some savvy base running. Emily Schipper then utilized a Panther fielding error to reach first and celebrated a run around when Emily Banker nailed one over the fence.
The bench called it a goner before the ball landed and the Steamers took the 5-4 lead, not looking back.
The last run of the day came in the fifth. Ottens nailed a lead off triple, then came home on a sacrifice bunt by Underwood.
Smart base running and clean fielding aided the Steamers. They had just one base running errors and no defensive errors on the night.
"The game is all about errors," Rosenow said. "If we can eliminate our errors, we're doing a great job. These kids are just so fun to coach and they're having a great time."
The Steamers improve to 11-8 and play at Riverdale on Monday.
Across the way, the baseball team struggled against the Panthers. The youth from top to bottom on the roster showed with three pitchers taking the mound in the seven innings, and the Panthers walking away with the 12-5 victory.
The roster comprised of 19 freshman and sophomores struggled against the EP offense, which included mostly upperclassmen.
"For us, it's getting ahead early," head coach Brent Dykstra said. "A lot of games, we're not."
Friday was no exception. The Steamers were down 1-0 in the first and could have left deeper in the hole. With the bases loaded and just one out, center fielder Drew Dykstra caught a pop up, then got the ball in to Larson Barnett, who was waiting at second, for the double play.
"We have some ball players that really know," Dykstra said. "We talk about game presence and being in the game, not watching it."
That didn't help much. Kannon Wynkoop, who was throwing plenty of strikes for the Fulton team, saw his pitch count rise with the Panthers fouling off a lot of balls. By the time the second inning was over they were down 5-0.
"It doesn't take long for these kids to wear down a little bit," Dykstra said.
Fulton made some headway in the bottom of the fourth. Jake Pannell led off with a single, and immediately stole second. Then Zach Stratton singled and both him and Pannell pushed an extra base thanks to a Panther throwing errors, pushing their first run across the board.
With another runner on and one in scoring position, another wild throw scored the second run of the game. Jacob Jones then nailed one to the outfield to cut the Panthers' lead to two, but got caught on second trying to stretch it into a double.
"The kids are there from first inning to the seventh inning fighting," Dykstra said "We're never shutting the door."
EP scored another run, but so did the Steamers, staying within two points. That's when things started to slip away and by the sixth they were down five again.
"Some of the stuff is just compounding errors," Dykstra said. "We were right in the game, you know, then it takes on error then another errors and next thing you know they take advantage of it.
"We don't have the strength to come in and just shut the door. We're not striking out pitchers because we're so young, so we have to rely on good clean defense.
Fulton falls to 1-13 and travels to Riverdale on Monday.