Since the pitching mound was moved back three feet in high school softball, the premium on defense has only intensified.
Monday afternoon, during a critical Upstate Eight Conference crossover matchup between Bartlett and St. Charles North, one play exemplified the difference in the Hawks' 2-1 victory.
Delaney Olinger, who had the North Stars' lone run batted in with a second-inning single, led off the bottom of the fifth with the game deadlocked at 1-1.
The junior outfielder hit the hardest-hit ball of the game, a vicious rocket to right-center field, but Bartlett senior Rachel Odolski made the play of the game.
The Hawks' right-fielder moved instinctively without hesitation, lunging for the ball in one motion and snaring the shot with a shoestring catch.www
Odolski would be rewarded in her next at-bat as pinch-runner Jessica Kirby scampered home on a bases-loaded wild pitch with two outs in the Hawks' sixth inning to provide the winning run.
"You gotta make the big plays," said Odolski. "Everybody can make the little plays. You have to get the team going somehow. We knew we had to come out together to get this outcome."
There was unanimity among the two coaches after the sterling Odolski catch, particularly magnified as Alexandra Millett singled sharply up the middle for the North Stars as the following batter.
"That catch in right was the play of the game," St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. "It kind of symbolized their game defensively against ours. (Bartlett) made some aggressive plays against us defensively. We let some balls handcuff us."
"If that ball gets by (Odolski), it's at least a double or a triple, if not more," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "(We played) phenomenal defense today."
Kayla Haberstich was the other defensive heroine for Bartlett; the shortstop, with Bartlett nursing its precarious 2-1 lead in the North Stars' seventh, caught an Abby Howlett floater in short left-field -- with her back completely turned to home plate -- to retire the St. Charles North leadoff hitter.
Bartlett right-hander Holly Pagan did the rest as the junior stranded the North Stars' Andrea Beal on second base with a harmless grounder to second to end the game.
The junior emerged victorious in a classic pitchers' duel with the North Stars' Sabrina Rabin as Bartlett (11-5, 5-1) denied the North Stars (7-4, 4-2) in the makeup game.
"I had to be ready for the game," said Pagan, who scattered 5 hits in the win. "My defense was amazing. "
Both teams scored in their half of the second.
Pagan, Sydney Johnson and Alyssa Nowak had consecutive base hits to load the bases for Bartlett, which scored when Lauren Janczak produced one-out grounder.
Olinger plated Howlett in the North Stars' second with a one-out single up the middle.