Emily Kisch may only be a freshman, but she sure didn't need any education about the Burlington Central vs. Marengo softball rivalry.
Kisch's sister Sarah, who now plays at Millikin University, was involved in many Central-Marengo battles when she played for the Rockets, so Emily Kisch knows full well what the long-standing rivalry between the perennial Class 3A powers is all about.
And on Tuesday at Marengo, she and her teammates took a giant step toward regaining the momentum Marengo has held in the series the past few years.
Kisch got out of jams in the first two innings and allowed just 5 hits with 9 strikeouts as Burlington Central defeated the host Indians 3-1 in the Big Northern East opener for both teams.
The magnitude of getting the upper hand on Marengo early in the season wasn't lost on Kisch afterward.
"It's important," she said. "It shows that we're not the under dogs anymore and that we can play hard and bring our game."
Not only will the two meet again on Thursday at Rocket Hill, they learned Tuesday when the IHSA released postseason assignments they have both been assigned to the Sycamore regional. Marengo, the 2011 Class 3A state champ and last year's runner-up, beat Central in a sectional semifinal last year and had won four straight and six of the last seven against the Rockets prior to Tuesday.
"I just tried to give them a little history of the Central-Marengo rivalry," said BC coach Wade Maisto, who has coached in countless Rocket-Indian battles in his 20 years with the Central program. "These are two excellent programs and have been for a lot of years. I just told my girls that Marengo is always going to battle for 21 outs."
The Rockets (5-1, 1-0) broke out on top 2-0 in the top of the second inning. Senior Lauren King led off with a single to center field and took second on a wild pitch. With one out, Tori Harvey singled up the middle, King stopping at third but drawing a throw home that allowed Harvey to go to second. King scored and Harvey went to third on Becca Gerke's sacrifice fly to right and Harvey scored when Courtni Neubauer beat out a slap grounder to short.
From there, Marengo senior Bethany Hart and Kisch battled each other through the middle innings, both bending a little but never breaking.
The Indians (2-3, 0-1), who had runners at second and third in each of the first two innings but failed to score, drew to within 2-1 in the fifth when Stephanie Cartwright smacked an inside-the-park home run to the right-field corner. Megan Semro then drew a two-out walk and Vernoica Reuilus singled but Kisch got a strikeout to end the inning.
The Rockets added an insurance run in the top of the seventh. Neubauer drew a leadoff walk and with one out, Brooke Gaylord launched a double into left-center to easily score the speedy Neubauer.
Marengo was able to get a two-out single from Hart in the bottom of the seventh but Kisch got Semro, the Indians' cleanup hitter, to line out to King at second to end the game and give the Rockets their first win over Marengo since April 12, 2011.
"I was kind of nervous starting the game and at the end but I relaxed and just tried hitting my spots," Kisch said.
Despite the loss of sophomore pitcher Angie Morrow to a shoulder injury, Maisto knows he has a potential gem in Kisch, along with savvy junior left-hander Gaylord to carry the pitching load this season.
"She's really only a freshman by year in school," Maisto said of Kisch. "The first day I had her I saw softball was in her blood. She's a competitor. She wants the ball and she does a great job."
Junior Bekah Harnish added 2 hits for the Rockets, who got 9 hits from 8 different players.