If you can't be a state champion, the next best thing is going out with a win.
And the Goreville High School softball team did just that Saturday by pounding out 16 hits and rolling past Glasford's Illini Bluffs, 13-6, in the third-place game at the IHSA's Class 1A state softball tournament at EastSide Centre.
Taylor Odom finished her remarkable career with a hitting showcase. The senior headed to Murray State had three hits, including a towering three-run homer with her patented swing, and finished with five RBI after a run-scoring single in her final at-bat.
Odom hit two home runs at last year's state tournament, one in each game, when the Lady Blackcats won the championship. She repeated that feat this season and finished with 10 homers after a record-setting 24 in her junior campaign.
"I still just can't believe that people were pitching to her," said Goreville coach Shanna Massey. "I don't know. I guess as a pitcher you want to be able to challenge the best and hope you're able to get them out, but from a coaching perspective, I mean, she wouldn't have seen a pitch all season."
Goreville (18-15) lost to Toledo Cumberland in the semifinals and the first four innings of Saturday's consolation game were scoreless. But that changed in the fourth when McKenzi Schaede plated Haley Darnell for the first run.
The Lady Blackcats added three runs in the fifth as Brittney Pritchett, Odom and Darnell all had run-scoring hits to make it 4-0.
"We kind of settled down in the third inning," Massey said. "We were on edge going into this game and disheartened a little because we weren't playing for the championship again and once we got that first hit or two, everybody was like, 'OK, we're going to win this game.'"
Illini Bluffs (18-7) scored a run against Goreville sophomore Sydnee Rushing in the bottom of the fifth but might have had more if not for a spectacular double play turned by Odom at third base. With the bases load and one out, Arianna Young grounded to Odom and she reached out and tagged Abbi Schafer before firing a strike to first base to get Young and end the inning.
"I had it going through my head if I get it, turn around and look and then throw it," Odom said. "She was right there so I just tagged her and threw it."
Goreville took the momentum of that play and put up five runs in the sixth. Pritchett drove in two runs before Odom blasted the final homer of her prep career.
Illini Bluffs scored two in the sixth as Rushing battled finger issues, but the Lady Blackcats weren't done offensively and tacked on four in the seventh with Odom, Alison Webb and Schaede all driving in runs.
Page 2 of 2 - The Tigers plated three runs in the seventh, but a nice play by shortstop Madison Sopczak ended the game. Rushing (16-14) had four strikeouts and five walks in the win.
Schaede finished with four hits, while Pritchett and Odom both had three. Rushing and Darnell both had two. Alison Webb had three RBI.
And going out with a win made it nearly as fun as winning a state title.
"It was still exciting," Odom said. "We had fun. Even though we weren't going for first or second, we stil came out here saying, 'We're going to get third, we're going to win, we're going to try as hard as we can.'"
It marked the end for Goreville's four seniors: Odom, Kaylee Webb, Micaela Allred and Alison Webb.
"Those four girls have had an awesome career in high school," Massey said. "They've been through four super-sectionals and two state tournaments and played on a history-making volleyball team, so things like that, it's just been an amazing career for them."
Massey was among those who felt ending on a win was the second-best way to end a season.
"I think I would have rather gone out with a win and played for third than taken second," she said. "You never want end on a loss, especially if you're competitive and we're a very competitive community. To end on a win is just fantastic."