The Vernon Hills softball team kept rolling right along Tuesday afternoon as the Cougars met Northside Prep in the Class 3A Grayslake Central sectional.
The Cougars used a combination of some great pitching by senior Jen Claussen and some timely hitting to capture a 4-0 semifinal victory over the Mustangs.
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Vernon Hills advances to the sectional championship game at 11 a.m. Saturday against the winner of Wednesday's scheduled Antioch-Wauconda game.
Claussen flirted with her first no-hitter as she went into the top of the seventh with no hits and only 1 walk allowed.
But with one out, Northside Prep's Katie Corcoran hit a single down the left-field line on a change-up to break up the no-hitter.
The Mustangs (12-16) made matters interesting in the top of the seventh as Dana Brecklin followed Corcoran with a single to right field before Gabby Ortiz walked with two outs to load the bases.
But after a meeting on the mound to regroup, Claussen was able to get Kristen Mullane to ground out back to the mound to seal the victory.
"We want this more than anything and we want to keep playing every game," said Claussen, who recorded 12 strikeouts. "Those are girls (Antioch and Wauconda) who we all have a very big rivalry with and they're always very competitive teams and they always come out swinging."
The Cougars came out swinging in the bottom of the second Tuesday against losing pitcher Sarah Joseph, who allowed 7 hits.
Claussen got the rally started with a one-out single to left field before teammate Steffany Froman doubled to left-center to put runners on second and third.
Then Kristina Kliver came through with a 2-run double to center field to get Vernon Hills on the scoreboard with an early 2-0 edge.
The Cougars' offense struck again in the bottom of the third as Sami Saliba walked, stole second base, and scored on an RBI single to center field by Jordyn Comitor for a 3-0 advantage.
"It's a shame she (Claussen) didn't get the no-hitter, but the kid (Corcoran) got a nice hit down the third-base line so you have to give her credit," said Vernon Hills assistant coach Mike Moran, who was among the coaches filling in for head coach and recently new father Steve Korney on Tuesday.
Vernon Hills added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth as No. 1-hitter Dana Meline singled to right field with one out.
Then with two outs, sophomore Tori Smith doubled to center field as Meline scored from first base to boost the lead to 4-0.
Kliver added her second double off the left fielder's glove with two outs in the bottom of the sixth but she was left stranded there.
Claussen did benefit from some solid defense during her no-hitter bid as right fielder Comitor threw out Angela Villagomez with a 9-3 putout for the first out in the top of the sixth.
Moran hopes his squad cam pick up the offense even more looking ahead to the sectional championship game on Saturday morning.
"We were good offensively, but we need to be a little sharper," Moran said. "Our three, four, and five hitters were trying to adjust to the speed and they haven't gotten it just yet."