Some clutch two-out hitting made the difference for St. Francis on Wednesday, but it was a throw to the plate on defense that might have jump-started the team to victory.
The Spartans tallied 5 runs with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning on their way to a 6-4 Suburban Christian Conference defeat of visiting Wheaton Academy (8-6, 4-2). But just as important were a pair of Warriors runners nailed at the plate, including a perfect throw home from left fielder Bailey Zydek, who prevented what would have been a 4-1 lead for Wheaton Academy in the fourth.
"Today we all picked each other up and worked as a team. Bailey had that big throw from left field and that kind of got us going," said St. Francis shortstop Janie Smith, whose deep 2-run double to center in the Spartans' fourth was one of 5 hits in the big inning that came with two outs.
The Warriors, who jumped ahead on St. Francis' Maggie Remus 3-1 after scoring once in the first and twice in the second, had runners thrown out at the plate in both the fourth and fifth innings and then saw the Spartans come up big in the fourth.
"They get one big inning and they make two perfect throws to the plate. Both of those plays normally we're going to score runs on," Wheaton Academy coach Paul Gagliano said. "They got 5 runs with two outs. If we make that out it's a different game. But hats off to them. They executed."
With two outs and a runner on first, St. Francis (15-2, 8-0) got things going when No. 9 hitter Emma Davis singled and Carley Pasquale slapped a double to left to make it a 3-2 Warriors lead. Smith's 2-run double gave the hosts their first lead and then hot-hitting Ali Dittrich blasted an RBI triple to deep right field. When Fiona Summers followed with a perfect bunt single, it was a 6-3 Spartans lead.
Dittrich, who has 5 home runs this spring, "settled" for a pair of doubles and a triple.
"Our team has been struggling a bit with getting a leader, so I just tried to come through and start something up and I guess it worked," Dittrich said of her 3-for-4 day. "Everyone's been trying to come together and pick everyone up. We've been doing real well and everyone's been doing their part."
The late rally allowed Remus to improve to 10-0 on the year, and she was helped by hard-throwing reliever Emma Chapman, who got the final out in the sixth and then struck out the side in the seventh to earn the save.
For Wheaton Academy, Michelle Ridderhoff pitched 4-plus innings before freshman Andi Pivaronis come on and blanked St. Francis over two innings of work.
Despite the loss Gagliano likes what he is seeing from his squad.
"I'm real happy with the way we're playing," he said. "We're playing much better than we started the season. We're playing well in conference, and our nonconference is very aggressive."
Spartans coach Ralph Remus was thrilled to see the big defensive plays fire up his team.
"It was nice. We did it with long hits and bunts," he said of the key fourth- inning rally. "And we needed those plays (at the plate) to pick us up because we were sloppy in the field.
"That's what I tell the kids, when we're struggling and we're not getting things done, we need someone to make a play. And we had a few of those today and they helped us out."