Coming into Saturday, Naperville Central had not lost a game Keegan Hayes started all season.
It took one batter to throw that perfection slightly askew.
Abby Ramirez’s inside-the-park home run to lead off Trinity’s bottom of the first was her 18th homer of the season, an electrifying moment. It knocked the Redhawks back on their heels, too.
“It definitely threw us all off,” Hayes said. “I knew what I was up against, but I wasn’t expecting that.”
Trinity added a go-ahead unearned run in the first and No. 1 Naperville Central never quite recovered, losing 4-2 in the finale of the inaugural Bandits Jamboree in Rosemont.
“We got off to a rough start, and it kind of set the tone for the game,” Hayes said. “I don’t think we were expecting it to start off like that. When you get behind like that it’s hard to come back.”
Naperville Central (31-3) won its first 29 games this season, but dropped its last two.
Wearing a wide smile, Redhawks coach Andy Nussbaum hardly painted the picture of worry heading into the playoffs.
“Trinity, that’s a good team,” Nussbaum said. “This was a nice event to play in, it would have been nice to win. But now the real season starts.”
Things actually started Saturday in textbook Naperville Central fashion.
Maddi Doane singled to lead off the game, Juliet Tassi sacrificed her to second, and Lisa Tassi’s single off the pitcher and shortstop’s glove scored Doane for a 1-0 lead.
It wasn’t smooth sailing, though. Lisa Tassi, Naperville Central’s usual shortstop, was reduced to designated player with an ankle injury. The Redhawks made an uncharacteristic error on a throw back to the infield that led to a run in the first, and a baserunning mistake cut short a rally in the third.
“This game shows us some things we maybe need to work on,” Nussbaum said.
Hayes singled in Kaitlyn Skarecky in the third inning, cutting Trinity’s lead to 3-2. But Trinity lefty changeup specialist Chase Machain shut it down after that, holding the Redhawks to just two baserunners the last four innings while striking out nine.
“She started going hard and away, and we didn’t adjust well,” Hayes said. “It’s a lesson learned.”
Trinity (24-4) was certainly the most explosive offense Naperville Central has faced since Benet. Trinity hit 7 homers earlier in the season against defending state champ Marist. Michigan recruit Ramirez and Illinois-bound Nicole Evans anchor a deep lineup.
If Ramirez didn’t show how live a bat she had with the inside-the-park homer to deep right, she backed it up by launching a long foul ball to left later.
“Abby is ridiculous,” Trinity coach Bob Osborne said. “(Hitting) right side, left side, it doesn’t matter. It was a well-played game. I thought it had a playoff feel to it. That’s a good team over there. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them again in a supersectional, because they have the (supersectional) game before us (in Rosemont).”
It isn’t a stretch to suggest that these two teams could meet again in three weeks in East Peoria.
That sounded like music to Nussbaum’s ears, with a different ending in mind.
“A game like this helps us to refocus,” Hayes said. “You can’t go into every game expecting to win, no matter who the competition is. None of us like the feeling of losing, we don’t want to feel that way again and we don’t plan on it.”
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