It was no secret to Alyssa Fernandez that Montini was making every effort to pitch her carefully short of an intentional walk.
Only one problem, though.
"I think what they don't realize is I really like low and inside pitches," the St. Francis senior said. "They kept pitching me inside. I don't think they caught on."
And for that, Fernandez made it hurt.
With two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the seventh, Fernandez hit a 2-run walkoff homer -- her second of the game -- the Spartans rallying for a dramatic 6-5 win in Monday's matchup of Suburban Christian Conference Blue leaders in Wheaton.
Fernandez's first homer, a 2-run shot in the fifth, put St. Francis (16-3, 7-1) ahead, but Montini (19-6, 12-2) rallied with 2 runs in the top of the seventh to surge ahead 5-4.
With one out Aly Germanos reached on an infield single, and an out later she stole second and took third on a wild pitch. Fernandez worked the count to 2-2, then launched a no-doubter to left for her seventh homer of the year.
"They weren't going to intentionally walk me, but their pitcher wasn't just throwing me the ball," Fernandez said. "She was really thinking about what she was going to do."
St. Francis coach Ralph Remus admitted to counting the hitters in a preceding inning, hoping his dynamic senior duo of Germanos and Fernandez would get one last shot. Fernandez has 40-plus runs batted in this season, Germanos 40-plus runs scored.
"Somebody had to get on so we could get back to the top of our lineup. It worked out that they got there," Remus said. "Not that I was assuming Montini would score, but I knew there was a good chance because they're a good hitting team."
Montini, which beat St. Francis 11-3 in the teams' first meeting in Lombard, tied it in the top of the seventh as Cristina Barrett beat a rundown and the tag at home plate to score on Morganne Evans' squeeze bunt. With two outs Shaylee Lewis doubled in Evans with the go-ahead run.
But the Broncos couldn't hold the lead and appear to be snake-bit in recent days.
Montini has lost three straight games, all on an opponent's last at-bat, on the heels of a 13-game win streak.
"We like being the home team, I guess. Like I said to the girls, it is what it is," Montini coach Richie Costante said. "Nothing to hang our heads about. That's a very good team over there, and we battled back, put ourselves in position to win."
Constante confirmed that he had every intention to pitch Fernandez with extreme care the last at-bat.
He even considered an intentional walk.
"It went through our mind," Costante said, "but we didn't want to put the winning run on second base. They would have tried to steal second."
Montini grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first on Alyssa Sclafani's seventh homer, but St. Francis answered with 2 in the bottom half. Barrett doubled in Isabell Alexander in the third, before Fernandez's first homer put the Spartans back ahead.
"This is the happiest I've ever been playing a softball game," Fernandez said. "I've played in national softball games, national championships. I've never been this happy."