Hampshire's softball team was perfect on the year in the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division, and on its way to the program's first conference title in 33 years, but could not come up with the key hit on Wednesday and fell 5-1 to division foe Crystal Lake Central at Hampshire.
Down a run after the top half of the first, the Whip-Purs (18-11, 9-1) looked as if they were going to rally and respond early with Sara Finn and Haley Widmayer in scoring position with just one out. But a slow roller back to the pitcher and a groundout ended the threat.
Hampshire would eventually break through in the fifth after Finn singled, driving in Ellie Lapi who led off the inning with a single, and had runners on second and third with one out. But, just like in the first inning, a baserunning mistake would erase the runner from third and stall the rally from there.
"We didn't cash in when we had runners on second and third," Hampshire coach Stacey Stepek said. "We just looked too comfortable. We weren't aggressive at the plate. We weren't really aggressive and smart on the bases when we needed to be. Hats off to them -- they made the plays and we didn't."
Part of the reason Hampshire had as much trouble as it did at the plate was due to the Tigers' pitcher Megan Mahaffy. Pitching the complete game and only giving up the 1 run on 6 hits, Mahaffy also struck out the side twice in back-to-back innings and had 12 total to silence the Whip-Pur bats.
Even with the late runs putting the game out of reach, Stepek knew that her team needed to be better to beat Mahaffy.
"It may not look it today but we practiced the inside pitch and waiting on the change-up. You have to hand it to Mahaffy for pitching a great game. She hit her spots and kept us off balance and we didn't respond or adjust," Stepek said.
The Tigers' (12-7, 6-3) Savanah Frank had 3 RBI to lead the team while Mahaffy helped her own cause by doubling in a pair in the top of the seventh for insurance.
Widmayer did everything in her power to match Mahaffy in the circle, but a passed ball in one inning and a wild pitch in another late in the game led to 4 Tiger runs. She would finish with 3 strikeouts and 2 walks with 6 runs (5 earned) on 6 hits.
While not her usual dominate self (Widmayer has all 18 of the Whip-Purs' wins this year), she still put the Whips in a position to win the game late, something she has done all year and will need to keep doing if the Whip-Purs want their first conference title since 1981.
They have one more chance this week to clinch at least a tie for first in the FVC coming Friday at Grayslake North. Stepek thinks her team will be ready for it but hopes Wednesday was just the motivation that her team needed.
"Hopefully this lights a fire under them for Friday. They're better than the way that they played today and they have to stay positive and show us how they are going bounce back."