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updated: 5/8/2014 11:15 PM

Neuman, Conant count clutch win

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The drama was that of a sectional championship game.

In a battle of Mid-Suburban West softball powers, host Schaumburg was trailing Conant 7-4 but had the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

At that point, Cougars coach CathyAnn Smith called upon sophomore Sara Neuman to return to the mound, where she'd started the game 100 minutes earlier before being relieved by classmate Kali Schumacher with two outs in the bottom of the fifth.

What was Neuman thinking as she tried to keep the Cougars in first place in the MSL West?

"I knew my defense would have my back no matter what," she said. "I just had to do my job because I knew they would make the play for me."

Neuman made sure they didn't have to make a play.

After surrendering a run with a walk to Roxanne Kakareka, Neuman struck out the next batter to give the Cougars the 7-5 victory and keep them in first place with a 10-1 record.

Barrington is one game behind at 9-2 followed by Fremd (8-3) and Schaumburg (7-3).

"It was a big game and it felt like a playoff atmosphere when we got here," said Smith, who was back on the diamond where she was once a standout southpaw pitcher for the Saxons. "Their pitchers are some of the best in the conference, so I'm glad our girls were able to produce."

Senior second baseman Telly Hunter (3-for-4, RBI) produced offense as well as anyone, clouting a triple, double and single for the Cougars and scoring all three times.

"You really need good pitch selection against her (Shannon Felde, the Saxons junior pitcher who is 7-3)," Hunter said. "She was throwing real fast so what it comes down to is getting your pitch to hit."

The Cougars hit the board with 2 quick runs in the first inning.

DeeDee Durr sliced a one-out double down the third base line and went to third on a passed ball. Rachel O'Malley followed with a walk. O'Malley then tried to steal second and an error on the play allowed both runners to cross the plate.

Conant added 2 more runs in the top of the third, thanks to Hunter's RBI double to right center which scored O'Malley (walk).

Hunter got home on two wild pitches.

Schaumburg scored its first runs in the third when shortstop Elaine Walker (2-for-4) belted a 2-run, one-out homer over the right-center field fence to cut the deficit to 4-2.

Conant went ahead 5-2 in the fourth when junior Hailey Rothstein doubled to left, went to third on Lauren Grzelak's sacrifice bunt and scored on Elisa Ambrose's infield hit.

Hunter singled and scored in the fifth to put the Cougars up 6-2.

Schaumburg answered with 2 runs in the bottom of the inning on an RBI triple to down the right field line by Felde and an RBI single off the center field fence by Paige Alt (2-for-4) which made it 6-4.

Conant got an insurance run in the top of the seventh when Hunter tripled to right with two outs and scored on a wild pitch for the 7-4 lead.

Felde (2-for-3), Christina Candotti and Natalie Napier drew walks in the bottom of the seventh to spark the Saxons' rally which was finally shut down by Neuman.

"I have an offense and defense to thank," said Neuman (8-0), who ended up with the win and save. "Without one or the other, we wouldn't be where we are today."

The Saxons (15-7), who are playing six straight conference games this week, have lost their last three games by a total of 4 runs.

"This game came down to our defense," Abreu said. "We had some errors we normally don't make. At the end of the day that will come back to hurt you.

"I tip my cap to the girls, though, for coming back and getting those walks at the end of the game and keeping the pressure on them.

"Shannon pitched a great game against a great hitting team."

Smith also had the utmost respect for the Schaumburg bats.

"We knew we had to keep the ball low because they are all great hitters," she said. "It was a battle to the last out."

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