It was early last month. The Naperville Central softball team had just swept Waubonsie Valley in a Saturday doubleheader by the combined score of 21-2 to drop the Warriors to 6-5.
It was the type of moment that teams learn from or the season goes in the wrong direction. The Warriors used it as a learning experience, and since then they have enjoyed nothing but success. The latest win was Tuesday at Neuqua Valley, where the Warriors prevailed 4-1 in eight innings to run their winning streak to 14.
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"We came together as a team," said senior Melaina Koulos, whose sacrifice fly in the sixth inning scored the Warriors' first run. Her RBI single in the seventh drove in one of the team's other three runs.
"We had a huge meeting (after the Naperville Central doubleheader) and we said we can't play for stats and we can't play for the newspapers. We have to play for each other," she said.
And if there was a day that the Warriors wanted their streak to continue it was this one. Waubonsie improved to 20-5 overall and stayed in first place in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley at 11-1.
But while they were facing a team that fell to 12-10 overall, the Wildcats are still making waves in the UEC Valley at 10-2.
"They are as solid a team as Naperville Central and Naperville North. Neuqua is up there with them," said Waubonsie coach Val Wood.
The starting pitchers for both teams turned in solid performances. Winning pitcher Shannon Hohman improved to 14-3 and 7-1 in conference, allowing just 5 hits and striking out four in a complete-game effort.
Neuqua's Megan Bilgri started the game with Waubonsie's leadoff hitter Layne Thresh walking and Jordan Kurth reaching on a fielding error. Bilgri then struck out the side to end the inning. Then she struck out the side in the second.
Over the next three innings, she allowed a single by Kurth in the third and then retired the side in both the fourth and fifth innings. She went on to allow just three hits and she struck out 11.
"Her high stuff is good. She's a great pitcher, a dominating pitcher," said Koulos, a friend of Bilgri's. "We did a good job of finally getting into our tempo and not hers."
Waubonsie got on the scoreboard first with a run in the sixth. Thresh made it to second on a fielding error. Kurth's sacrifice bunt moved her to second and Koulos scored her on the sacrifice fly.
Neuqua responded in their half of the inning. With one out, Jamie O'Brien connected on her second hit of the day, a single to center. She was safe at second as a resulted of an error on an attempted double play that put Dominica Lange on at first. Then Jessie Boudreau's sacrifice fly scored O'Brien.
The game went into extra innings, where Waubonsie got a grip on the game with a 3-run showing in the eighth that was aided by a run-scoring sacrifice bunt by Thresh, Koulos' RBI single and an RBI double by Amanda Lack and Neuqua's third error of the game.
"(Bilgri) dominated that game that should have been ours. We left nine runners on base," said Neuqua coach Melissa Wilson said. "But I love playing Waubonsie. It's a great rivalry, and they are a great team."
Each team has seven remaining conference games in the tight league race. Neuqua faces South Elgin twice and West Chicago, East Aurora, Bartlett and Metea Valley once with a rematch at Waubonsie Valley on May 13.
Besides the game with Neuqua, the Warriors face Elgin, West Chicago, East Aurora, Bartlett, South Elgin and Metea Valley to close out the schedule.