West Aurora and Naperville Central entered Friday's DuPage Valley Conference matchup in Aurora with identical 2-0 conference records, which provided quite an opportunity for the surprising Blackhawks.
"We had it marked," West Aurora coach Randy Hayslett said. "Everybody knows they are a powerhouse. It was a game our kids wanted in terms of putting us back on the map."
Julie Kestas showed the Blackhawks just what a force the Redhawks are, overpowering West Aurora with a 3-hit shutout in Naperville Central's 10-0 victory.
"I thought Julie was real sharp today," Redhawks coach Andy Nussbaum said. "We went out and got some extra runs, 2-0 is still a little tight. Once you break it open it allows our pitcher to relax. I thought we did a nice job supporting her."
Kestas (6-0) struck out the side in the first inning. She fanned two more in the second and two in the third and then three in the fourth on her way to a career-high 15 strikeouts, bettering her recent 13 against Neuqua Valley.
"She probably is the best pitcher we've faced," Hayslett said. "She had good control, obviously has a real good rise ball. She's hitting her spots and corners well. We went from last week facing some more average type pitching, now you go up against her who has good velocity and good control, that's a tough adjustment to make. We had some better at-bats later in the game, we just couldn't string them together."
Naperville Central (11-2, 3-0) took a 1-0 lead in the second against West Aurora starter Kaylee Hayton (6-4) when Abby Place launched the first home run of her career over the center field fence.
"It was right down the pipe," Place said. "At first I didn't think (it would be a home run) but then I saw it keep going. It was a great feeling."
West Aurora (12-5, 2-1) had a chance to tie in the second when Hayton led off with a single and moved to second on Carly Frauenhoff's bunt. But Kestas fired another rise ball the Blackhawks couldn't catch up to for an inning-ending strikeout.
After an unearned run in the third made it 2-0, the Redhawks broke the game open with a 5-run fourth inning. No. 9 hitter Courtney Giebel drove in the first run by lacing a double to the right-field gap, the first of her three hits to make it 3-0.
Leadoff hitter Maddi Doane followed with a double to nearly the same spot that scored Giebel and Katie Lamich for a 5-0 lead. Kaitlyn Skarecky and Megan Nerger also drove in runs to put the Redhawks up 7-0 and give Kestas more than enough of a cushion.
"We've been hitting the ball real well," Nussbaum said. "Courtney has been hitting the ball well. She has good speed and has scored a lot of runs. We like to have somebody with a high on-base percentage batting in front of Maddi and Lindsay (Gonzalez)."
Lisa Tassi extended the lead to 9-0 in the sixth with a 2-out, 2-run single that bounced so hard off the outfield fence she was held to first base. Doane drove in the final run in the seventh.
"West Aurora is far improved over where they were last year at this time," said Nussbaum, whose team has lost to just Benet and Downers Grove South. "We can read the paper like anybody else. We knew they were improved."
Cara Jimenez smacked a double for West Aurora's lone extra-base hit.
"Certainly I expected to be competitive and be in the game," Hayslett said. "It just shows we have a little ways to go. We're on our way up, we're improving, we're a good team, we're not a great team yet. That's a great team."