Kaneland took another step up the Northern Illinois Big 12 East standings Tuesday at Yorkville.
The Knights, 3-7 in the conference and 14-19 overall a year ago, continued their turnaround season with an 8-3 victory over the Foxes, a Class 3A regional champ the past two years.
Kaneland (17-5, 5-0 in conference) stayed in first place a game ahead of DeKalb with a tried-and-true formula: an offense that pressured Yorkville's defense from the first batter on, a solid defense that committed just 1 error, and senior ace Delani Vest settling down as the game went on to run her record to 11-2.
The Knights scored in the first four innings to put Yorkville (11-6, 3-2) in a hole it couldn't recover from. Kaneland finished with 12 hits and struck out just three times.
"We try to put the ball in play," Kaneland coach Brian Willis said. "We work on our fundamentals. We have pretty good team speed so that puts a little more pressure on the other teams. When we do those things well we'll be able to put some runs on the board and be pretty hard to beat."
Freshman Paige Kuefler singled in the first off sophomore Rachel Owens (7-4). Kuefler scored the first run when the Foxes threw wild to third base trying to pick her off.
After Yorkville tied the game in its half of the first, Kaneland scored 4 unearned runs in the second. Knights first base coach Mike Kuefler successfully was able to get the home plate umpire to overturn an out call on Haley Contorno's grounder to short, ruling the first baseman didn't keep her foot on the bag.
The wheels came off for Yorkville after that. The Foxes didn't get an out on a Sarah Kitz bunt, and No. 9 hitter Allie Miller was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.
Vest drove in a run on a fielder's choice, Allyson O'Herron lofted a sacrifice fly, and Kuefler and Lanie Callaghan singled home runs for a 5-1 lead.
"We have a good mix of girls that can bunt, slap and hit," Vest said. "If we need something done we are able to count on a player."
Vest got a visit from Willis in the circle after walking the first two batters in the third. She found a groove from there, allowing only 2 more hits while blanking Yorkville over the final 5 innings.
"They (Yorkville) have been scoring some runs lately," Willis said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy today. The first few innings I thought she (Vest) was off her game a little but she settled in and pitched the last few innings well and made some pitches when she had to."
Kaneland completed the scoring in the fourth on an RBI single from McKinzie Mangers and Contorno's double over the center fielder's head on the hardest hit ball of the game.
Eight of Kaneland's starters had at least 1 hit. Mangers went 2-for-3, and Kuefler continued the blazing start to her high school career going 4-for-4.
"Paige as a freshman she has been one of our catalysts for the team," said Vest, like Kuefler and junior shortstop O'Herron a varsity starter as a frosh. "She is one of our strongest players."
Leadoff hitter Corrine Rowe had 2 doubles to lead Yorkville. Foxes coach Kathi Dockstader said 12 strikeouts and pop-ups by her offense "kind of tells the story of the game."
"We can't let teams get that far of a lead of us," Dockstader said. "Just puts too much pressure on everybody to fight back."