Keegan Hayes walked a tightrope against the best lineup around — and didn’t blink.
Naperville Central’s junior pitcher struck out Emily York with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the seventh, and the No. 11 Redhawks hung on to knock off No. 1 Benet 3-2 on Thursday in Lisle.
“JD (assistant coach Jackelyn Diekemper), she’s always talking to me about being mentally strong,” said Hayes, committed to Northern Illinois. “You just have to be resilient, stay focused on every pitch. You can’t lose your composure out there.”
Facing a Benet lineup that averaged 10 runs a game last year, Hayes (3-0) worked out of two-on, two-out jams in the fifth and sixth innings. She saved her best work for the seventh.
Ali Michalik reached on a one-out infield single, Maeve McGuire walked and with two out Stephanie Abello was hit on the mask to load the bases.
York quickly fell behind in the count 0-2, but fouled off 6 straight pitches and took a ball. On the 10th offering Hayes got York to chase one up and in to end it.
“She just never gave in,” Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said of Hayes. “I thought the last at-bat was emblematic of the entire game. They battled, we battled.”
Benet (1-1) got solo home runs by Abbie Gerth in the fifth and Abello in the sixth to claw back from a 3-0 hole but never could muster the big hit with runners on. The Redwings were 1-for-14 with runners on base, stranding 10.
“The kids didn’t quit,” Benet coach Jerry Schilf said. “We had our chances.”
Naperville Central (4-0), on the other hand, delivered in the clutch in two key spots.
In the first inning Maddi Doane singled to lead off, and with two out Laura Dierking singled her. Then, in the fifth, Doane doubled with one out and Kaitlyn Skarecky brought her in with a two-out RBI single for a 3-0 lead.
“The girls that are supposed to get our RBIs, they got our RBIs,” Nussbaum said.
Hayes, who struck out six, helped her own cause in the fourth, crushing a one-out homer off the scoreboard in left. She sensed that her pitch selection perhaps kept Benet’s hitters off balance.
“I think they were expecting more off-speed slow stuff. It was nice to change it up a little bit and throw more fast stuff,” Hayes said. “They’re definitely patient hitters. They lay off everything that’s not a strike.”
Nussbaum was pleased with a crisply played game on April 4.
“It was very well played on both sides,” Nussbaum said. “Benet is really good. We think we’re really good, too.”
In defeat Benet flashed very good defense, throwing out three runners on base. Abello gunned out a basestealer in the first, and McGuire threw a runner out at the plate in the second.
“Naperville Central is a good team, maybe they’re better than everyone expected,” Schilf said, “but we knew they’d be a tough team and Hayes is a good pitcher. I thought our kids battled, and our defense was phenomenal. If we play 35 games like that we’re going to win our share of games.”
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