The Hampshire softball team finds itself in a position that is very rare -- actually it's been pretty much unheard of -- for a Hampshire softball team.
Junior Haley Widmayer pitched out of jam after jam and the Whip-Purs generated just enough offense to beat Grayslake Central, 4-2, Thursday at Hampshire in a battle for sole possession of first place in the Fox Valley Conference's Fox Division.
"We're still young, we're growing and we're building," said second-year Hampshire coach Stacey Stepek. "Haley did a really nice job today. In games like this and (Wednesday, a 2-1 win over Grayslake North) it's really important as a junior that she be a leader for us on the mound and she's done that for us."
Widmayer allowed 7 hits, struck out 10, walked 3 and stranded 9 Grayslake Central baserunners as the Whips (12-7, 5-0) won for the third straight time and fifth in their last six games.
In six of their seven at-bats the Rams (13-6, 4-1), who had an eight-game winning streak snapped, had at least one runner in scoring position but each time Widmayer was able to battle out of the inning. The only time Grayslake Central went down in order was the seventh, when it had its 3-4-5 hitters up.
"I work a lot harder with runners on," Widmayer said. "It forces me to do better."
Hampshire, which hasn't won a conference title in softball since 1981 when the Whips were in the now defunct Big Eight Conference, spotted the Rams a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Central scored without a hit as Shelby White led off with a walk, went to second on a wild pitch, was sacrificed to third by Katie Strickland and then scored on a perfect squeeze bunt by Jamie Brew.
The Whips, though, came back with 3 runs in the bottom of the inning off Grayslake Central senior Brittany Brown. Senior Sara Finn was hit by a pitch on ball four and promptly stole second and third. She held on an infield single from Widmayer but scored on a wild pitch after Widmayer had taken second without a play and third on the wild pitch. Aly Snider's sacrifice fly to right field scored Widmayer to put Hampshire ahead 2-1. Freshman Peyton DeChant followed with a bloop single to center, went to second on Becca Hurst's groundout then scored on an Ellie Lapi double to right-center to give the Whips a 3-1 lead.
From there, each pitcher worked out of jams until the Rams were able to close the gap to 3-2 in the top of the fifth. Brew stroked a two-out single down the left field line and scored on Brandy Heraty's bloop single to right. But Widmayer struck out the Rams' next hitter to leave the tying run stranded.
Hampshire, which left 10 runners on base despite having 14 hits, got the run back in the bottom of the inning, also with two outs. Freshman Renee Malecki ripped a single to center and after Brittany Sujet reached on an infield hit, No. 9 hitter, freshman Erin Doyle, came through with an RBI single to left.
"Some of our main hitters were struggling some today and we didn't make the necessary adjustments in the box to get on top of the ball,"said Stepek. "But we were able to scratch some runs in the first inning and then some people who haven't been hitting that well stepped it up. That was a big hit from Erin Doyle.
"But the mental errors we're making right now have to be eliminated. When we see these teams the second time if we make those kinds of errors we'll be on the other side of the scoreboard."
Grayslake Central had a golden opportunity to get right back in the game in the top of the sixth when it loaded the bases with two outs but Widmayer again got a strikeout to end the threat.
"We got runners on and we've been getting the hits we've needed," said Rams' coach Jason Schaal. "Today we got the hits we just didn't get that one hit we needed. Take away a couple crazy things in the first inning and it's a 1-1 game. Widmayer threw a great game for them and Brittany did a nice job for us. This just puts a little more pressure on us now in the conference."
Finn, Widmayer, DeChant, Lapi, Sujet and Doyle each had 2 hits for the Whips, while Brew and Skyler Long (2B) each had 2 hits for the Rams.