Loud and proud: Naperville Central rolls
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Andy Nussbaum calmly sat in the dugout, all around him his Naperville Central Redhawks shouting and laughing in a sea of raucous celebration.
"Believe it or not," Nussbaum smiled, "this used to be a quiet team."
His Redhawks have plenty to talk about.
No. 5 Naperville Central banged out 17 hits in winning the opener of a Saturday doubleheader with No. 15 Neuqua Valley 9-3, then batted around in a 6-run second inning to take the second game 6-4.
Naperville Central (10-0) is off to its best start since 1988, when it won its first 12 games.
"We're on a roll," said Redhawks junior Maddi Doane. "Our bats are on fire right now, we're getting good pitching and playing good defense. I think that's going to make us a tough team to beat."
The Redhawks always seem to be blessed with strong pitching, and that's no different this year with Keegan Hayes and Julie Kestas. More than ever, though, this Naperville Central team is adding a potent offense to the equation.
It starts at the top with Doane, hitting a blistering .579 (22 for 38). Doane turned on a two-run homer down the right field line in Game 1. In the second game, after Naperville Central spotted Neuqua a 3-0 lead, Doane drilled a two-out, 3-run double to deep center in the bottom of the second to put the Redhawks ahead 4-3.
"I'm seeing the ball really well," said Doane, committed to Syracuse. "I have a lot of confidence with the girls coming up behind me."
Saturday's second game was only the second time all year the Redhawks have trailed, and that lasted all of an inning. Kestas (4-0), meanwhile, limited Neuqua to just 1 run after the Wildcats batted around in a 3-run first.
"I said to Julie after that first inning 'How many times have we scored more than 3 runs this year?' The answer is every time," Nussbaum said. "We've been doing a good job of putting pressure on the opponent offensively. It allows our pitchers to pitch without a lot of pressure when they're usually pitching ahead."
Lisa Tassi, who had 2 hits and 3 RBI in the opener and was 3-for-4 in Game 2, doubled in Doane and Kaitlyn Skarecky doubled in Tassi. All of the Redhawks' runs in the pivotal Game 2 second inning came with two out.
"Keegan had a big at bat walking to lead off the inning, and it kind of snowballed after that," Doane said. "We're hitting the ball like no other."
Neuqua (6-4) got a run back in the fifth inning of Game 2, but stranded 2 runners in the fourth, and left the tying runs on second and third in the seventh. Madison Bartlett had 2 hits and 2 RBI in the second game and Jamie O'Brien and Kelsey Dominguez 3 hits apiece on the day. Wildcats coach Melissa Wilson was pleased with how her girls responded, after going down 7-0 through four innings of Game 1.
"Naperville Central is a good team. They fight, they execute when they need to and it's easy to see why they're 10-0," Wilson said. "At the same time we had our opportunities. We showed that we can compete."
Hayes (6-0) struck out seven in Game 1, shutting out Neuqua over the first four innings.
Lindsay Gonzalez and Laura Dierking had 3 hits and Juliet Tassi, Skarecky and Megan Nerger 2 hits apiece in Game 1 for Naperville Central, which opens up DuPage Valley Conference play Monday against Glenbard East. Should the Redhawks navigate next week unscathed, they could be 15-0 going into an April 22 showdown at Glenbard North.
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