ROCK ISLAND — If four weeks ago, you would have told Western Big 6 softball followers what two teams would be in first place with four games remaining, you would be met with two different responses.
On one side, you have United Township, who has won at least seven conference games in four of the last five seasons, returning eight starters from a regional championship team a year ago. However, they last won a conference title with a 9-1 record in 2013.
“It’s amazing; we are doing this for our seniors,” United Township pitcher Brandi LaFountaine said. “This is their time to shine.”
On the other side is Rock Island, which has finished over .500 just once in the last five years, starts six sophomores and has not won a conference title since 1995.
“I probably wouldn’t have believed them,” Rock Island second baseman Lauryn Stegall said. “We knew we were good, but this is great.”
If the teams split their Tuesday doubleheader, they each will have one loss going into the final conference weekend, with UT facing Quincy and Rock Island facing Alleman. If either team sweeps, they would need just one win next weekend to clinch an outright title. If Rock Island sweeps UT but then loses both games to Alleman, it could cause a three-way tie between, RI, UT and Alleman, each with two WB6 losses.
Both UT and Rocky have found themselves in this position in similar ways, with dominant performances on the mound.
Rock Island sophomore ace Ashley Peters is 3-0 with a league-leading 0.70 ERA and 25 strikeouts. UT’s sophomore ace Brandi LaFountaine is a league-best 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA.
“We are very similar; we both have young pitching and senior pitchers,” UT’s Kaitlyn Markin said. “Both teams have really good pitching.”
Both also have really good hitters.
A player from one of the teams leads the league in every offensive category except for doubles.
“It’s going to be very competitive,” LaFountaine said. “There are good pitchers on both sides, good hitters on both sides. It is just a good doubleheader to come watch.”
With how competitive the Western Big 6 has been, Rock Island is honored to be in this position after three weeks.
“You look at the Big 6, and you have four quality teams. Being part of that is an honor to us,” Rock Island coach Chris Allison said. “Instead of being in the bottom part of the Big 6, we are competing for a chance at a title. A lot of hard work is paying off. I am excited for the girls to see what they can do.”
Despite the youth, United Township knows the Rock Island is going to bring the fight to the diamond.
“It’s a huge doubleheader,” Markin said. “Rock Island is coming out for blood. They are young, but they come out to play every time we play them. They are young, but they are good.”
Both teams know they have to play their games to come away with the win and put themselves in the driver’s seat heading into the last weekend.
“We have to pitch well and play defense behind them, but we have to hit the ball,” said UT coach John Alonzo. “I don’t think we are going to see huge scores. The pitchers should be able to hold the teams down.”
“We just go out and have fun. Us being together is more fun when we aren’t putting pressure on ourselves,” said Stegall. “We just need to go out and have fun and do the little things right.”