CAMP POINT, Ill.
At first, the start time and location of the Class 1A sectional softball championship game between Central and Hardin Calhoun was in doubt.
Then the game seemed like it was never going to finish.
Overnight rain made the softball field at Liberty High School -- the original site of the sectional championship game -- unplayable on the final Saturday in May. Anticipating the rain, Liberty officials and Central officials worked together the night prior to the game to have the game moved to Central, virtually giving the Lady Panthers a home game.
Not surprisingly, Calhoun -- the top-ranked team in Class 1A and defending state champions -- protested the move to the Illinois High School Association and the game was moved back to Liberty and its soggy field. However, Calhoun eventually accepted the site's move to Central.
"It was crazy from the get-go from the early-morning hours," Central coach Amy Hildebrand said. "There were several of us that went to Liberty that went out there to help out because the field in was terrible shape and we wanted to play the game. Even (Calhoun coach Matt Baalman) was there to help out."
That was just half the craziness that ensued.
Calhoun all-state pitcher Grace Baalman and 2016 Herald-Whig Player of the Year Jacey Nall turned in a pitcher's duel and quickly worked seven scoreless innings and needed extra innings to decide the sectional champion. Before the eighth inning started, however, thunderclouds moved into the area and caused a weather delay that lasted 1 hour, 59 minutes.
"It effects a team physically and mentally, but it also gave Jacey some time to rest," Hildebrand said. "Both teams sat and had some time to rest. I think it played a role."
When the weather cleared and play resumed for the top of the eighth inning, Central's Britani Prescott broke Baalman's no-hitter with a one-out single up the middle, but was stranded.
She was the final Lady Panther to reach base as Baalman retired the final 20 hitters she faced.
The Lady Warriors, however, struggled just as much to score. Calhoun stranded a pair of runners in the bottom of the ninth, and another runner in scoring position in the 10th.
It wasn't until the bottom of the 14th -- 3 hours, 1 minute after the original start time -- that a run was finally scored. Calhoun loaded the bases with no outs, and Kassidy Klocke roped the walk-off single to the gap in right-center field for the 1-0 victory and the sectional crown.
"I never went into this game and thinking we'd still be here at 6 p.m.," Baalman said after the game. "That's just a really long time."
The longer the game went on, the more people on social media started paying attention to the contest. Jokes were even made about how long the game was running, and how much longer it needed to go to break the IHSA record.
The longest softball game in IHSA history was a 28-inning affair between Oak Park-River Forest and Glenbard West that was started on May 10, 2000, and was finished on May 16 before River Forest won 1-0.
The statistics from the game continued the crazy theme.
Baalman finished the game with an astounding 30 strikeouts, two walks and allowed just one hit. In the process, she recorded her 508th strikeout to break the IHSA record for punchouts in a season. That record was held by Alton Marquette's Alexis Silkwood, who struck out 501 in 2011.
Nall wasn't much off the pace as she struck out 17, but issued six walks and allowed five hits.
"The role she played in the game, she proved she can compete possibly with the state's best pitcher," Hildebrand said. "She was hard-nosed and wanted to go as long as Grace did."
Central's season ended with the loss, and Calhoun went on to repeat as Class 1A champions after beating Princeville 3-0 in the state championship. But it wasn't the last time Calhoun had an extra-inning contest on the way to another title.
Just two days later in the super-sectional round, Calhoun and Casey played a 13-inning game with Calhoun winning 1-0 yet again. In that game, Baalman struck out 26 on the way to sending the Lady Warriors to the state tournament.
Knowing Calhoun played another extra-inning thriller one game later made Hildebrand think how far Central could have gone had it gotten past the Lady Warriors.
Hildebrand admitted she still thinks about that game.
"All the time," she said. "All the summer, all fall and this winter. I'm hoping we get another chance at them. I've already got a game plan in my head if that opportunity arises.
"We've beaten by state champions the last three years. That, ‘What if?' definitely plays into my mind. But you have to beat everybody."