Kirker does it again for Jacobs
If things keep going like this for Jacobs' softball team, people are going to quit asking, "Who's that?"
In her second full game since returning from a season-long nagging groin injury — and in just her 13th high school game in the pitchers circle — Katie Kirker did it again Friday. The Jacobs senior right-hander fired her second straight postseason 1-hitter and struck out 11 as the Golden Eagles beat Hononegah 3-0 in the semifinals of the Class 4A Cary-Grove sectional.
Jacobs (24-14) will take on Carmel (19-18) at 11 a.m. today for the sectional championship and a berth in Monday's 7 p.m. Judson University supersectional in Elgin opposite Elk Grove or Conant, who play today for the Barrington sectional crown. Jacobs, in a sectional final for the second time in the last three years, is seeking the program's first sectional title.
"It hasn't hit me yet," said Kirker, "sectional finals. Our team is coming together. We had good chemistry at the beginning and now, this is the strongest we've been. We're pulling together every game with a team effort."
Just as she did in a sparkling 1-hitter in the regional final against Cary-Grove, Kirker dominated Hononegah's lineup. She gave up a one-out single to junior Stevie Atterbury in the top of the first inning then didn't allow the NIC-10 champion Indians (30-7) another hit the rest of the day. Jacobs' defense was near flawless again, and the Golden Eagles took what the Indians gave them and used it to their full advantage.
"What can you say about Katie," asked Jacobs coach Jeremy Bauer. "She's pitched phenomenal for us when we've need her the most. (Assistant coach and former Jacobs catcher) Katie O'Brien has done a great job of calling the game. Her pitch sequence and scouting have been top-notch. We played really good defense again."
The Eagles jumped ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the first. Atterbury walked Jacquelyn Hengler to lead off the inning. She took off for second on a wild pitch and when the ball took a funny bounce at the backstop, she darted for third. A throwing error on the play then allowed her to score.
Jacobs made it 2-0 in the second. Catcher Kelsey Cummings led off with a single, courtesy runner Taylor Belo went to second on Danielle O'Toole's bunt single, third on a wild pitch and then scored on Kaitlynn Woloszyk's groundout.
Alyssa Lach's leadoff single, an outfield error allowing her to get to second, another wild pitch and Maggie Hansen's one-out sacrifice fly gave Jacobs a 3-0 advantage in the third. Lach also had a double in the win.
And that was more than enough for Kirker and the Eagles' defense, which turned a nifty inning-ending 6-4-3 double play in the fifth after Hononegah had put a runner on Jacobs' only error of the game. Kirker hit a batter with two outs in the sixth for the Indians' only other baserunner, as Kirker (5-1) faced just 23 batters and ran her scoreless streak to 18 straight innings.
"Our goal was to get four runs and give Katie a rest and give (junior) McKayla Lein a chance to pitch," Bauer said. "But when Katie's going that well you have to keep going with her. We've been practicing hard at manufacturing runs ... hitting behind runners and hitting sacrifice flies when the situation calls for one. We did that and then Katie and the defense did the rest."
Hononegah coach Lisa Larson gave Kirker her props.
"Obviously she threw very well," said Larson. "It's hard to win a ballgame when you can't get the bat on the ball and score some runs. There haven't been too many times our bats have been silenced like that. That was not typical of us but you have to give (Kirker) credit. She pitched against us the first time we played and we hit her but she looked on top of her game today."
This game may have had different emotions than the one against Cary-Grove in the regional final but to Kirker and the Eagles it's all about one game at a time right now.
"This game didn't have the same background as the Cary-Grove game," Kirker said. "This was more of a relaxed intensity. We're just taking it one game at a time and we're facing each game like it's another Cary-Grove."
Next up on that list for Kirker and the Eagles is Carmel at 11 a.m. today, with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.
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