South Elgin sophomore pitcher Karli Dobler was elevated from the junior varsity team to the varsity three weeks ago, and she passed a big test with flying colors on Saturday against Metea Valley.
First-year Storm coach Stephanie Katzenberger called on Dobler to come on in relief of senior Paige Allen with two outs in the top of the fifth inning and the Mustangs leading 3-1. Metea Valley had runners at first and second and senior Jenna Hall coming up with a chance to break the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division softball game wide open.
But Dobler got Hall to ground out to third, the Storm scored 4 runs in the bottom of the inning and Dobler wiggled out of jams in the sixth and seventh as South Elgin notched a 5-3 win in South Elgin.
"I just go in with strong confidence that my team has my back and that whatever I throw they'll get outs," stated the well-spoken Dobler in her first media interview. "I feel like the pressure makes you feel more accomplished when you succeed on the field. We needed this win."
Metea Valley (3-14, 2-8) struck first as sophomore Kara Leckinger singled home sophomore Fran Senese, who led off the third inning by getting plunked in the helmet with a pitch. That came an inning after the Mustangs had the bases loaded with no one out and couldn't score.
South Elgin (10-11, 4-7) tied it in the bottom of the third. No. 9 hitter Rachel Ziemba took a pitch to the opposite field for a one-out single. She stole second and third and when Metea failed to cover third on the steal attempt she scored to make it 1-1.
The Mustangs grabbed a 3-1 lead in the fourth when senior leadoff hitter Alise Perna drove a home run over the fence in right-center, scoring Senese, who reached on a bunt single, ahead of her. With two outs sophomore Megan Arcivar and junior Monica Jauch each singled, but Dobler (3-3) came on to get the third out.
"Right from the beginning you wouldn't know she's a sophomore," said Katzenberger of Dobler. "She listens to everything (catcher Alyssa) Buddle says and she doesn't show much emotion out there. When I brought her in I just said 'let's get out of this inning. Lets get this batter.' "
Dobler did that and then watched as her teammates put together a game-winning rally in the bottom of the inning.
Alexa Rogalla, pinch-hitting for Allen, was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. The Mustangs, who had 4 errors in the game, made a throwing miscue on Mallory Mecklenburg's sacrifice bunt and with runners at second and third, sophomore Cassidy Westlund (2-for-2) delivered a game-tying single to right field. After Buddle drew a walk, Sam Helton's single up the middle scored Westlund, who had stolen second, from third base to put the Storm up 4-3. The Mustangs appeared to be out of the inning when Hall snared Taylor Ford's liner up the middle and doubled Buddle off third, but Helton, who had gone to second on another throwing error, scored an insurance run on Brittany Koss' triple to right.
"We hit the ball hard," said Katzenberger. "Some of our losses have been just not getting good at-bats. We were a little rocky at the beginning against (Hall) but we told them to just not think about one bad at-bat."
After striking out the first two batters of the sixth inning, Dobler walked Senese and Perna (2-for-3) blooped a single into right to give the Mustangs runners at first and third. But Dobler got freshman Lisa Harrington to ground out to Ford at third to end the inning. Leckinger led off the seventh with a walk and courtesy runner Lexi Gaul went to second and third on wild pitches before Dobler set down the Mustangs' 4-5-6 hitters, leaving Gaul stranded.
"We beat ourselves in that one," said Metea coach Kris Kalivas. "We had the bases loaded and nobody out and we hit into a double play. We hit a batter with a pitch and then throw the ball away on a bunt.
"We're really young and on days we struggle we, unfortunately, have one bad inning and today it cost us. Jenna pitched a nice game. She had them off balance, she had her control and she was hitting her spots. It's a tough one."
Hall went the complete game for the Mustangs, allowing just 5 hits and 1 earned run. She struck out 8, walked 5 and hit a batter. Arcivar and Jauch each added 2 hits for Metea, which left 9 runners on base.
Allen allowed 9 hits and 3 earned runs with 1 strikeout, 1 walk and a hit batter in her 4⅔ innings for the Storm.