Wauconda senior Alex Kinnamon winced and shook her right hand after fouling a pitch off it.
"(The ball) kind of hit right off my knuckles," Kinnamon said.
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Kayla Wedl's left hand shook throughout Saturday's Class 3A sectional final at Grayslake Central, mainly between innings, the righty said. Her hand wasn't hurting, however.
"It was stressful," said Wedl, Wauconda's 5-foot-6 freshman pitcher and maybe the biggest reason for the Bulldogs' turnaround this season. "I kept shaking. My hand kept shaking -- my left one, not (the right) one."
Whew, for Wauconda.
Wedl's right hand was its steady self, as it has been all season, and when fellow freshman Brooke Sefcik squeezed the final out at third base, Wauconda's girls shook with excitement. Wedl's 2-hit shutout lifted the Bulldogs to a 2-0 win over North Suburban Conference Prairie Division rival Vernon Hills for their first sectional championship.
"It's phenomenal," said Kinnamon, the senior catcher who made her varsity debut late in her freshman season. "This team's not just a team. We're a family. We've really grown together this season."
Wauconda (23-12) will play Sterling (27-3), which scored 5 runs in the bottom of the seventh to stun defending state runner-up Marengo 6-5 on Saturday, in Monday's 4:30 supersectional at Judson University in Elgin.
"Everybody has contributed," said Wauconda coach Tim Rennels, whose squad went 13-23 last season, losing its play-in game in the state tournament. "It's a really close team."
Wauconda's opponent also drew close together. Vernon Hills (11-16), which captured only 7 victories during the regular season, won four playoff games, including a play-in, to reach the sectional final.
"That's the thing I'm most proud of," tough-luck losing pitcher and four-year varsity starter Jenn Claussen said. "At the beginning of the season, we were just awful."
"I'm just so proud of how this team came together and played really well down the stretch," Vernon Hills coach Steve Korney said.
Korney promoted four freshmen -- second baseman Sami Saliba, first baseman Danielle Comitor, catcher Rose Ferolo and pitcher/third baseman Carly Stern-- about midway through the regular season, and that's about when the Cougars' fortunes started changing. Saliba, Comitor and Ferolo started Saturday, as did fellow freshman Dana Meline, who moved from catcher to shortstop when Ferolo got called up.
"They certainly helped contribute to our team," Korney said of the freshmen. "I would say all 13 members of the playoff roster helped to contribute in some way. It was certainly a team effort."
Ninth-grader Wedl has been Wauconda's ace all season and shook off her nerves to dominate Vernon Hills in the Bulldogs' biggest game of the year.
She set down the first 13 batters she faced before walking Claussen on a 3-2 pitch with one out in the bottom of the fifth. After Steffany Froman lined out to right fielder Emily Holub, junior Kristina Kliver broke up Wedl's no-hitter with a line-drive single up the middle. With runners on second and third, Wedl got a foul out to first baseman Maggie LePage to end the threat and keep Wauconda in front 2-0.
"She's unflappable," Rennels said of Wedl. "She just doesn't get rattled."
Wauconda scored the only run Wedl needed in the top of the first when, with two out, Kinnamon showed no ill effects of the foul ball off her knuckles. She doubled off the base of the fence in center field and eventually scored on a wild pitch.
In the Wauconda fifth, Kennedy Wright's bunt single scored Holub (1-for-2) from third base with an insurance run.
The only other hit Wedl (17-10) allowed was a two-out single in the seventh to Claussen, who went 1-for-2 in her final prep game.
"I threw a lot of curves and screwballs today," said Wedl, whose sister Kendra starred on the 2010 Wauconda team that won a regional championship.
"We can always count on her to bring the heat and bring the heat all game," Kinnamon said of her pitcher. "She doesn't get down on herself, ever."
"She's very good," Cougars senior right fielder Jordyn Comitor said. "She has a very big future ahead of her."
Claussen was effective as well. The right-hander allowed only 5 hits, including doubles to Kinnamon and Lauren Nee, while striking out nine and walking two.
Wedl finished with 8 strikeouts and just 1 walk -- to the power-hitting Claussen.
"She was pretty consistent," Claussen said. "She definitely worked inside and out. I don't think we saw too many change-ups from her."