Marengo's softball team may have lost its two battles with Burlington Central in April, but on Saturday the Indians won the war.
Marengo, the 2011 Class 3A state champion and last year's runner-up, showed its mettle by trailing the Rockets until the sixth inning before coming back to win. The Indians finally broke through against BC junior left-hander Brooke Gaylord, scoring 3 runs and then adding one in the top of the seventh to beat Central 4-2 in the championship game of the Class 3A Sycamore sectional.
Contact information ( * required )
Marengo (28-9), which won its seventh consecutive regional title, will play Wednesday in the Rochelle sectional against Rosary, which upset Kaneland on Saturday.
"We had some other goals we set out to get. We're disappointed," said Central coach Wade Maisto, whose team finished the season 27-4. "We didn't play our best today. They've been there and they know what it takes. It's a seven-inning game."
The Rockets looked to be in good shape in the bottom of the first when Bekah Harnish drew a two-out walk and Gaylord deposited Bethany Hart's first pitch well over the center field fence for a 2-0 BC lead.
"It just wasn't a good pitch," Hart said. "We had to score to win anyway so we didn't let it bother us."
But after that Hart (16-7), using a good mix of curveballs and screwballs, allowed the Rockets nothing. The only other BC hit in the game was a Gaylord single in the third. Lauren King was credited with a single when freshman Emily Kisch ran into King's grounder in the sixth and was called for interference.
The senior right-hander struck out 7, walked 2 and hit a batter.
"After the first inning I felt like they were attacking and we were sitting back," Maisto said. "Our approach wasn't an attacking approach after the first inning. We had an inning (the fifth) where we had three strikeouts and that really pumped (Marengo) up. We didn't play well enough to win today."
Marengo attacked the whole game. The Indians used 4 BC errors to put runners in scoring position in the second, third and fourth innings but each time Gaylord (13-3) got out of the jam. She finished with 6 strikeouts and 2 walks.
The Indians finally broke through in the sixth with no help from BC's defense. Taylor Carlson led off the inning with a walk and Gabbi Markison singled. After Shae Karsten was called out for being out of the batters box on a bunt attempt, Susan Anthony came through with a run-scoring single after working the count to 3-2 and fouling off five straight pitches.
After Megan Semro popped out for the second out, Marengo coach Dwain Nance rolled the dice and came up aces. He inserted sophomore Rebecca Schultz to pinch-hit for leadoff hitter Jessica Turner. In her first varsity at-bat, Schultz worked the count to 3-2, fouled off three pitches, then lined a single to right field to score both runners and give the Indians a 3-2 lead.
"I was thinking I just needed to hit the ball," said Schultz. "I was pretty nervous but at practice I've been doing pretty well so I knew I could do it. We needed somebody to hit the ball and get our spirits up."
"Burlington knows Jessica Turner very well and they don't know (Schultz) at all," said Nance.
Marengo added an unearned run in the seventh. Abby Kissack reached on an error to lead off and scored on a two-out hit by Carlson.
The Rockets had a golden opportunity to add to their lead in the third inning when Harnish reached on a two-out error and Gaylord singled. Harnish went to third on the hit and Gaylord to second when Marengo threw to third. But Hart got Kisch to pop up to short to end the inning. BC also put runners at second and third with two outs in the sixth but Hart got Becca Gerke to ground out hard to short to end that threat.
"Give props to Burlington Central," said Nance, whose team sent Burlington Central home in a sectional semifinal last year. "They're a good team and they had a great season. They're young. I hope we're not in the same regional again."
Central graduates just four seniors -- King, Melanie Gajewski, Rebecca Roscher and Mackenzie Paschke -- and expects to welcome back sophomore pitcher Angie Morrow, who sat out this season after shoulder surgery.
"I think our enthusiasm could have been up more today," said Gaylord. "We came out here to win. As much as it saddens me I'm looking forward to next year and what we can do. We'll miss our seniors."
Maisto is optimistic about the future as well, but that didn't temper Saturday's loss any.
"We're going to be in great shape next year and I'm looking forward to it but that doesn't make us feel any better today," he said.