Softball: Palatine battles past Mundelein in regional final
Nicole Pauly Capalbo, one of all-time finest hitters in Palatine softball history, enjoyed many games where she went 3-for-3.
But now, that's what she has done as the Pirates' head coach when it comes to regional titles.
Top-seeded Palatine won its third straight with a hard-fought 3-0 triumph over No. 7 Mundelein in the Pirates' own Class 4A regional on Saturday.
The Mid-Suburban League champs (29-2) will stay right at home and face No. 4 Hersey (25-6) on Tuesday in the Palatine sectional semifinal at 4:30 p.m.
The Pirates will go into the game on the heels of back-to-back regional game shutouts by junior Rhiann Dick.
The junior left-hander (26-2) fired a 6-hitter with 13 strikeouts in a nifty duel with Mundelein junior Kira Buckner (8-4), who recorded 14 strikeouts while giving up only 5 hits.
One of those five was Grace Huff's 13th homer of the season, a solo blast high over the left field fence off a 1-2 offering with one out in the bottom of the first.
It proved to be the only run Dick would need.
"Rhiann was very good," said Huff, who was intentionally walked in her other two plate appearances. "We are very luck to have her."
The Pirates have been very lucky to have Huff for the past four years on the varsity.
"Grace got us on the board early," Capalbo said. "That was all we needed but it was great to get those insurance runs in the fifth inning."
Those runs came in dramatic fashion.
With two outs and the bases loaded, first baseman Amanda Stanczuk belted a single to center to score Chase Friel and Kaitlyn Reed.
"I knew with two strikes I had to protect the plate," said Stanczuk, the only Pirate with multiple hits (2-for-3). "I just tried my best to get the ball out of the infield and help Rhiann because she pitched a great game.
"Being my senior year, and with everything on the line, I just went up there with an open mind, trying to hit the ball."
"Amanda has just been seeing the ball so well this year," Capalbo said. "She is so calm in the box. You would never know the situation of the game."
Mundelein fought to the very end as Elise Bernett and Allison Lambert led off the top of the seventh with singles to right field.
Pirates assistant coach Kristen Proffit then took a walk to the mound and it turned out to be a very productive chat.
Dick struck out two of the next three batters and got the other on a pop out to Stanczuk.
"Rhiann did great," Capalbo said. "She hit her spots. She wasn't fazed by runners on base. Her changeup helped keep them off balance and that's when she is at her best.
"Offensively, I think we were swinging too big. We were trying to make too many things happen instead of just hands to the ball. But she (Buckner) was a good pitcher and Mundelein is a good team."
The Mustangs (15-15) also had hits from Kellie Shanahan, Emma Hallin, Tess Mackey and Danielle Lambert.
Buckner's first seven outs were all strikeouts.
"Kira really held her own on the mound against a really powerful hitting Palatine team," said Mundelein coach Heather Ryan. "We put runners on base but we just couldn't execute the hit when we needed it."
Ryan is already looking forward to next season.
"We are thankful for our senior leadership this season," she said. "And I'm really excited about the future. We had some sophomores who really stepped up. And our catcher (Shanahan) is a freshman. I think she and Kira are going to be a force to be reckoned with next year.
"This game will motivate us for next year. We want to come back for more and I think you'll see us again in this spot."