Playing in its final conference game of the year before heading off to face Elk Grove next Wednesday in the Class 4A St. Charles East regional, the Elgin softball team knew it had one last chance to fine tune its game. That it came against crosstown rival Larkin made it that much better.
With their pitching leading the way, the Maroons shutout the Royals and held them to just 2 baserunners in a 10-0 six-inning Upstate Eight River victory Thursday at Larkin.
Maroons' sophomore pitcher Jessica Rago dominated the Royals' lineup from top to bottom to earn her eighth win of the year. Though she only had 3 strikeouts, Rago kept the Larkin hitters guessing pitch after pitch as to what was coming next, limiting them to just 1 hit.
Elgin coach Dr, Nick Bumbales said that a combination of Rago's drop ball and change-up were key to keeping Larkin's hitters off balance. Larkin (4-24, 2-14) coach Anne Vogt added that even though they tried to change their approach in the dugout, it did not stick.
"I don't think anyone was expecting what they got from her today and hats off to her for that," Vogt said of Rago. "We talked about (keeping) the hands back and seeing the ball all the way in and we were still lunging out for the ball."
Rago was helped by a solid offensive attack that began in the first inning. Melanie Berg had a one-out single, scoring on a Kelly Bremer single past the shortstop two batters later.
After a 1-2-3 inning in the second, the Maroons (14-18, 9-10) got right back on track by scoring 7 runs in the next two innings and batting around once per inning. Destiny West had a 2-run single in the third while 4 Royal defensive miscues turned into 4 unearned runs.
Bremer scored twice in the two innings, while co-captains Anna Eckholm and Jennah Perryman each had a double and run scored. In the sixth it would be Bremer and Rago to score the eventual game-ending runs with Fantasia Griffin driving in the winning run.
Bumbales knew his team was going to have an opportunity to work on some things during the game and get some preparation in for the state tournament.
"I told our kids I thought (this game) had all the ingredients for some good preparation for the tournament," Bumbales said. "We had some pretty good fielding today, good pitching and timely hitting. Everything came together today. If we play well defensively and we score 6 or 7 runs then we're going to have a chance to win."
As for the Royals, whose regular season will conclude with a game Friday against St. Charles East before they head to Addison Trail Monday for the play-in game of the AT regional, the 4 wins may not seem like much, it is still an improvement over last year's total of 3 wins, something Vogt knows is always a positive.
"Over the last three years, we've gotten one more win than the previous year and we're trying to build it up from there," she said.
Larkin would only get two base runners for the game and could not capitalize on the momentum for either. Samantha Wahl doubled to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning, breaking up Rago's no-hitter in the process, for the only Royals' hit, but she was stranded there.
Maria Rojo would get on in the next frame due to an error but was quickly retired with a double play. Sarah Hansen took the loss in the circle for the Royals after pitching all 6 innings.
According to Vogt, the Royals seem to be playing too tense, only loosening up and having fun around the practice field.
"I really want them to go out and be loose and have some fun," Vogt said. "We practice much better than we play. When we get on the field we get very tense, and uptight, and we don't make the play we should be making."