The South Elgin softball team made a convincing statement Friday that it has every intention of fighting for the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division championship this season.
The Storm used a gutty pitching performance from junior Paige Allen and a 2-run home run from standout junior catcher Alyssa Buddle, as well as a strong 3-for-4 day from senior shortstop Kara Rodriguez, to beat Northwestern recruit Sabrina Rabin and St. Charles North, 4-1, in a UEC crossover game at North.
"South Elgin beat us soundly today in all phases of the game," said North Stars' coach Tom Poulin, whose team suffered its first loss of the season after beating UEC Valley favorites Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley earlier this week.
"South Elgin came here ready to play."
The Storm (7-2, 3-0), which has won 3 straight, did just that. Even though South Elgin didn't score in the first inning, all four hitters hit the ball hard off Rabin. Rodriguez ripped a one-out double to left-center and went to third on Victoria Watt's groundout. Rabin got Buddle to make the third out, but it was a line shot directly to junior Andi Beal in center.
South Elgin broke a scoreless tie in the fourth when Mallory Mecklenburg led off with a double to left, Rodriguez beat out a bunt that hugged the chalk of the first-base line, Buddle reached on a semi-intentional walk with two outs and Katie Koss delivered a single up the middle to plate Mecklenburg.
The North Stars (4-1, 2-1) tied it in the bottom of the inning. Beal led off with a single up the middle, stole second and scored on a single up the middle from Rabin, who was 4-for-4 at the plate and 2-for-3 stealing bases on the day.
But that's all SCN could muster off Allen, who allowed 8 hits but stranded that same number of North Star runners on base, using a good mix that created 10 pop up or flyball outs.
"I was so excited to go out and start today," said Allen, who struck out three and walked two. "Buddle did a really good job of calling the game. We kept them off balance. She's such a good person and such a good player. Having her behind the plate gives me 10 times more confidence. She really knows what she's doing back there."
The Storm used a big fifth inning to take control. With one out Rodriguez beat out an infield hit and was then safe at second on Watt's infield grounder that resulted in a throwing error. Buddle, a James Madison commit, then cranked a 1-1 pitch well over the center field fence, her second home run of the season, to give South Elgin a 4-1 lead.
"We were pumped up the whole bus ride and we came out and wanted to get this win," said Buddle. "I just went to the plate focused. If you think about it, home runs don't come. You just gotta go up there thinking base hit."
The North Stars didn't lie down after that, but they also couldn't push anymore runs across. They had runners at first and second in the bottom of the fifth but Mecklenburg tracked down Abby Howlett's fly ball at the left-center field fence to end the threat. Rabin was then stranded at third in the bottom of the seventh when Allen got consecutive groundouts to end the game. Kaitlyn Waslawski had 2 hits for North.
"We were averaging 7½ runs a game and we scored one, so credit to (Allen) and their defense," said Poulin, whose team plays New Trier Saturday. "She kept us off balance. We've seen some great pitching this week and she's as good as we've seen. I didn't like our approaches at the plate a lot. We were swinging at their pitches and not ours. But they earned the win and our kids have to realize that when we tell them the next game on the schedule is the most important it's not just a slogan."
South Elgin coach Jason Schaal liked about everything he saw Friday, especially his team's defensive effort. After making 7 errors in a win over St. Charles East earlier in the week, the Storm had just one harmless throwing error against the North Stars.
"We played a great game," said Schaal, whose team plays a doubleheader at Naperville North Saturday. "We got on the bus and challenged them to just do what you do. We knew we were playing a great softball team and all 12 players contributed to this win.
"Buddle calls a great game and Paige hit her spots and did a great job. I asked her after the sixth inning if she wanted to finish and she just said (heck) yeah. They believe in themselves. The bats were on fire down south and that confidence came north with us. Kara Rodriguez in the No. 2 spot is getting on base and that's propelling everybody. We're getting clutch hits and we just want to keep this momentum going."