Mallory McCormack's 3-run home run in the fifth inning did not even give her team a lead against top-seeded Fenton on Wednesday night, but it sure did turn the game around.
The host Bison (18-20), fresh off a third straight regional crown, seemed in control of this sectional semifinal in Bensenville after taking a 6-1 lead after four innings.
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But McCormack's mighty at-bat in the fifth inning against Bison starter Alyssa Ciepley (13-11) got her team back in the game, and then a 5-run outburst in the top of the seventh enabled the visitors to stun Fenton.
McCormack, who chose to switch from softball to soccer for Ridgewood in this her senior season, was welcomed back to the Rebels softball team following her soccer campaign. So her fifth-inning blast, which came after she had ripped several hard-hit foul balls, was her first home run of the spring and couldn't have come at a better time for the Rebels (10-15), who advance to Saturday's sectional final.
"I just stayed calm and I heard the girls cheer for me," said McCormack, who went 2-for-3 with a walk and 2 runs scored. "After I hit it my mind was racing and the girls all got pumped up."
Even so, Fenton still led 6-4 and grew the lead to 7-4 after Nicole Susmarski doubled in the sixth and scored following a bloop single by Sarah Overlin and a fielder's choice by Kelly Kielbasa.
But the Rebels stunned the home team when the first five batters in the seventh inning all reached safely and eventually scored for a 9-7 lead. Megan Kaufman started things off with a double, and from there a bunt single, another double, a walk, a squeeze play and then a 2-run error put the Rebels on top by two.
The Bison, who were led by catcher Kelly Welch and leadoff hitter Hannah Wassmann, did manage a run in the bottom of the seventh but came up just short.
"At that point we were up five and the thought had entered our mind to walk her," Bison coach Dave Mello said of McCormack's key at-bat in the fifth. "Even after that home run we were still up two, but that did have a huge, huge effect on the game."
Welch, a four-year starting catcher who batted over .500 this spring, said it felt as if the Bison were chasing the Rebels the last two innings even while protecting a lead.
"We were our own worst enemy in that situation (top of the seventh)," she said. "Even though we had the lead it was like we were trying to come back."
Mello credited Ridgewood with making plays at key times during the game, but added that he thought that eight runs would be more than enough for his team to advance to its first sectional final.
"They executed very well, but when I look over at the scoreboard and see eight runs, I would think that would be enough for us to win most games," he said.