Montini took a huge step toward finally dethroning St. Francis atop the Suburban Christian Conference softball world, but another step looms just around the corner.
With Lauren Trojnar firing a 6-hit shutout Thursday in a 4-0 win at St. Francis, the Broncos improved to 12-0 in the SCC Blue while dropping the Spartans, who have won at least a share of the league crown five years running, to 10-1. The two schools will square off again Monday in Lombard in another SCC showdown.
"This is a big win for us. We were ready and we've been waiting for this all season," said Trojnar, who is 11-2 this spring. "I felt good. We were really ready to play today and we brought our 'A' game."
The Broncos, who have won 15 of their last 16 games to improve to 16-5 on the year, pushed across the only run they needed in the first inning when Cristina Barrett hit a double with one out and came home on a clutch, two-out single from Emily Lezcano. Barrett, who was 3-for-3 and hit by a pitch, had an RBI single in the fourth when Montini scored 3 unearned runs off Maggie Remus to take command of the game.
"I was extra focused for this game," said Barrett, who almost added another run in the seventh but was thrown out at the plate for a double play after a great throw home from Spartans left fielder Bailey Zydek on a flyball off the bat of Sara Ross. "I was relaxed and focused and just remembered everything. I knew if I started it off that I have a good team behind me that would keep it going."
Remus allowed just 1 earned run but suffered her first loss after opening the year with 12 wins. Reliever Emma Chapman kept the game close the rest of the way by blanking Montini, striking out three in a row to strand a runner at third base in the fifth and then working out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the seventh to keep the score at 4-0.
But the St. Francis offense just couldn't get much going against Trojnar, only once getting a runner as far as third base. In the fourth, Remus singled with one out and took third on a 2-out single by Zydek, before Emma Davis lined hard right at first, where Ross gloved the ball to end the threat and preserve the shutout.
"We didn't execute when we needed to," said Spartans catcher Fiona Summers, who went 1-for-3. "I know our big hitters, including me, didn't get the hits when we needed them."
Montini coach Richie Costante knows Thursday's outcome was big as the Broncos look to claim a league title for the first time since they shared it with St. Francis in 2010.
"Anytime you play St. Francis it's a big game," he said. "Looking back through the record books I don't know the last time we won here at St. Francis.
"Today we didn't hit the ball the best because their pitchers kept us off balance. I'll tip our hat to them, but we scored. When we had runners on we got a big hit, and our defense was phenomenal and we go with Lauren. That's huge (getting a shutout). We knew we were in for a battle."