Bill Gajewski will be out looking for a new puppy. But his daughter Melanie, Burlington Central's senior third baseman, will be choosing the breed and the color.
A few years ago, Bill made the mistake -- or maybe it was incentive -- of telling Melanie that if she ever hit a home run in a regional game, he'd buy her a puppy, as he did for Melanie's older sister Lizzie when she cranked one in a regional game for the Rockets at Kaneland.
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Now it's time to pay up, dad.
Melanie Gajewski's home run was the final of three Burlington Central round-trippers in a 7-run third inning Tuesday, which catapulted the Rockets to an 11-1 win in six innings over host Sycamore in Class 3A regional semifinal action.
"I was just hoping to get on base and score a run," said Gajewski, who has battled myriad injuries throughout her career only to come back and make her senior season her best yet. "I felt it though. It was pretty awesome. Now I get a puppy!"
The win puts the top-seeded Rockets (27-3) in Saturday's 11 a.m. regional title game against the winner of today's game between No. 2 Marengo and No. 3 Genoa-Kingston. Marengo ended BC's season in a sectional semifinal last year on its way to a state runner-up finish, but the Rockets beat Marengo twice this season, 3-1 and 3-0.
While BC's 7-run inning defined the game on the scoreboard, getting out of the top of the third unscathed was the true key point of Tuesday's win for the Rockets and junior left-hander Brooke Gaylord.
After giving up a leadoff single to Jordyn Shultz, one of only 3 hits Gaylord (13-2 allowed in the game, the Rockets made a throwing error on Rebecca Schroeder's sacrifice bunt and Brittany Huber walked to load the bases for the fourth-seeded Spartans with no outs. But the savvy Gaylord, who had to adjust all day to a tight strike zone, got Sycamore's 4-5-6 hitters to pop out to Lauren King at second base twice and then a fly out to Becca Gerke in right field ended the threat and left Central ahead 1-0, a run it had scored in the first inning when freshman Kayla Ross (2-for-3, 3 RS) beat out a bunt single, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a single from Bekah Harnish (2-for-2, 2 RBI).
"That was real huge, to get out of that with nothing," said BC coach Wade Maisto. "I was a little nervous about this game, coming to their field, and Sycamore can hit. One ball up in the air there and the whole game could have been different."
Then came the bottom of the third. Freshman Shelby Young led off with a walk and went to second on a wild pitch. With one out, Courtni Neubauer singled ahead of a Harnish single that drove in Young to make it 2-0. Gaylord then stepped in and deposited Taylor Zak's first pitch over the left field fence, her seventh homer of the season, for a 5-0 Rocket lead.
"I know my job is to help my team offensively and defensively and if my pitching isn't as good as it normally is I know I have to help offensively," said Gaylord, who struck out 4, walked 3 and hit a batter. "Our team was hitting great today. That's how our team is -- when one person starts hitting everyone gets going.
"I knew the strike zone would be a little tight, it's regionals. I've been working the outside corner a lot lately but today I had to adjust and my coach (BC assistant Erica Maisto) did a great job of calling the game."
Freshman Emily Kisch made it back-to-back dingers with a solo shot, King walked and with two outs Gajewski completed the home run trifecta with a line shot over the fence in right-center for an 8-0 advantage.
"After Kisch hit her home run it was kind of funny. Becca (Gerke) and I were like 'OK, no pressure,' " Gajewski said.
Sycamore scored an unearned run in the top of the fourth but Central made it 9-1 on a sacrifice fly from Rebecca Roscher in the bottom of the inning, 10-1 in the fifth on an RBI single from Gajewski and then ended it on the slaughter rule in the sixth when Kassie Gaylord's walk off ground rule double drove home Ross, who had beat out an infield single and went to second on a wild pitch.