autumn taylor

WEM senior Autumn Taylor slides into third base safely during Saturday’s 1-0 victory against Hayfield in the Section 1A playoffs at Todd Park. Taylor later scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to advance the Buccaneers to Tuesday’s winner’s bracket final against Wabasha-Kellogg in Austin. (Michael Hughes/southernminn.com)

It started with a couple steps.

With Saturday’s Section 1A playoff game against Hayfield in Austin still tied 0-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown senior Autumn Taylor knew what the possibility of her scoring represented.

So, after Hayfield pitcher Caitlyn Hendrickson snared a line drive and turned toward second base for a potential double play, Taylor crept off third base. When Hendrickson turned toward first base and started to throw, Taylor took a couple more steps.

After the Viking first baseman applied a late tag, Taylor was already off in a full sprint toward home plate, where she easily beat the throw to score the game-winning run and delivered the Buccaneers the Section 1A West subsection title. The win advances them to Tuesday’s Section 1A winner’s bracket final against Wabasha-Kellogg.

“Once the first baseman pulled the tag I left and I wasn’t turning back,” Taylor said. “I knew I had to get there for everyone.”

The only reason Taylor was on third base in the first place was because of more aggressive baserunning. After she slapped a leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth, senior Ellie Ready laid down a sacrifice bunt.

ellie ready

WEM senior Ellie Ready settles under a fly ball during Saturday’s 1-0 victory against Hayfield in the Section 1A playoffs at Todd Park in Austin. Ready’s sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning advanced the eventual winning run to third base. (Michael Hughes/southernminn.com)

Taylor took off on contact with eyes not on second base, but on third.

“I decided that once I was on base that I would be aggressive,” Taylor said. “Their left fielder wasn’t coming in to cover third base on that bunt, so I just decided that once I got to second I wasn’t going to hesitate and I was going to look at my coach and go to three no matter what.”

That first-to-third maneuver was discussed by WEM head coach Crystal Lamont and first-base coach Kelsey Bauer before the inning started.

“We could take advantage of that,” Lamont said. “Then it’s just Autumn’s pure running.”

After that, Hayfield elected to intentionally walk seniors Brielle Bartelt and Lindsay Condon — two of WEM’s hottest hitters — to load the bases for sophomore Emma Woratschka.

lindsay condon

WEM senior Lindsay Condon shows off the ball in her glove after she made a leaping catch over the 7-foot fence during Saturday’s 1-0 victory against Hayfield in the Section 1A playoffs at Todd Park in Austin. (Michael Hughes/southernminn.com)

Woratschka laced one of WEM’s hardest hit balls of the game, but it was rocketed straight into Hendrickson’s glove, forcing Taylor to scamper back to third base. Lamont doesn’t take any credit for what happened after that.

“That play at third, that’s all instinct,” Lamont said. “First you have to get back fast enough so they don’t double you off and then quickly become aware that they’re going to throw to the other base and go. You don’t have time as a coach. If you tell them to go, it’s too late. She knew, she’s smart enough and she’s our best baserunner and she’s gotten us extra runs many times this year.”

While Autumn Taylor’s scamper home was certainly the highlight-reel play, the opportunity isn’t available without the combination of junior Gloria Cortez and sophomore Addyson Taylor holding Hayfield scoreless for all nine of its trips to the plate.

“They did phenomenal today,” Lamont said. “I said on the way here I’d figure we’d need about four runs, and we got her done with one.”

gloria cortez

WEM junior Gloria Cortez fired seven scoreless innings in Saturday’s 1-0 victory against Hayfield during the Section 1A playoffs at Todd Park in Austin. (Michael Hughes/southernminn.com)

Cortez started and fired the first six innings of the game while pitching around seven hits and a walk, before Addyson Taylor handled the final three innings while not allowing a hit, walking one and striking out five.

“They held up really well,” Autumn Taylor said. “All they had to do today was hit their spots and they did that. Gloria, we started her so we could have a little speed change and they didn’t hit so great on Gloria last time we played them. We knew we’d start off with Gloria and once they started getting used to her we’d switch out to Addy. Addy hit her spots and held us in those last innings, and that’s all we needed.”

Next up

After Saturday’s victory, WEM sits two wins away from returning to the Class A state tournament.

The first of those two wins can come at 5 p.m. Tuesday against Wabasha-Kellogg (12-10), which beat Mabel-Canton 13-3 in five innings Saturday to claim the Section 1A East subsection championship.

kylie pittmann

WEM senior Kylie Pittmann swings at a pitch during Saturday’s 1-0 victory against Hayfield in the Section 1A playoffs at Todd Park in Austin. (Michael Hughes/southernminn.com)

Both teams were the top seed in their subsections, although WEM’s overall resume packs more of a punch. W-K won 9-2 in a regular-season game against Blooming Prairie, which WEM beat for the third time this season 11-1 in the Section 1A West semifinals.

A win Tuesday puts the Buccaneers just one win away from the section title, and they’ll have two chances at that victory against whichever team emerges from the loser’s bracket. Given how tough Hayfield was to dispatch, Lamont and Autumn Taylor both think a rematch against the Vikings is more than possible.

I expect to see Hayfield coming back in the section championship, so we’re going to have to face them again,” Lamont said. “This was a great learning experience for us to continue to grow and get better.”

Reach Regional Sports Editor Michael Hughes at 645-1106 or follow him on Twitter @APGSoMnHughes. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Sports Editor for the Northfield News. Also a California native looking for tips on surviving the winter and an Indiana University grad on the quest for a good breaded pork tenderloin.

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