Softball: West Aurora pulls sectional surprise
Avery Nehring lingered near the dugout for hugs and pictures with Yorkville's other two seniors, seemingly not ready to leave the field for the last time.
It was hard to blame her.
The Foxes have enjoyed a historic two seasons. They won the program's first sectional title last year at home, and this spring set a program record for wins with repeat conference and regional championships.
Back on their home field for sectionals, the stage was set for another memorable moment. Only West Aurora refused to be part of the storyline.
The sixth-seeded Blackhawks, the only team to beat top-seeded Yorkville in conference this year, scored three runs with two outs in the fifth inning off Foxes' ace Madi Reeves.
West Aurora sophomore pitcher Katelyn Serafin made it stand, working out of a seventh-inning jam to preserve a 3-2 win in the Class 4A Yorkville Sectional semifinal.
"It's been crazy, so rewarding, especially last year with as far as we went, to be able to continue to work with these coaches and these girls," said Nehring, Yorkville's senior catcher. "We just didn't execute like we needed to today."
Yorkville (28-6), trailing 3-1 going to the seventh, mounted one last rally off Serafin and the Blackhawks.
Kaitlyn Roberts beat out an infield single with one out, and Nehring's single put runners on first and second. Ellie Alvarez followed with a deep fly that was dropped near the left field fence, Roberts scoring to make it a one-run game.
But Serafin came back to retire the next batter on a pop up, and the game ended when a Yorkville baserunner collided with West Aurora's shortstop on a ground ball, runner interference called.
"Like I said this whole postseason, we don't take any team for granted. We had to come out and execute," Yorkville coach Jory Regnier said. "We just didn't have the big inning."
Serafin was a big reason for that.
Hardly overpowering -- she only struck out two -- Serafin instead had Yorkville batters swinging underneath her offerings throughout. She coaxed nine infield pop-ups, and showed nerves of steel late that belied her youth.
"I just had to take my usual walk to the back of the mound, take a deep breath and think about the next pitch," Serafin said. "If I don't strike them out, just get them to pop up. Changeups and drop curves were working, because they start their swing low and then I can make them pop up."
On the flip side, West Aurora (17-14) maximized its opportunities against Reeves (18-4).
The hard-throwing Miami-Ohio recruit retired the first 11 batters she faced, seven by strikeout. She got the first two outs of the fifth leading 1-0, but Ionicca Rivera followed with a single to short center that popped out of a diving Roberts' glove.
With two strikes, then, Serafin drilled a double to deep left, bringing in the tying run. It started a string of three consecutive run-scoring hits.
"We were more short on our swings," Serafin said. "We didn't have such a long swing. Slow and low and then fast on top of the ball."
Mia Malczyk followed with an RBI single to make it 2-1, and Riley Mont tripled to deep right-center, bringing in the third run.
"I know we were a little bit of an underdog, but the advantage is we had faced [Reeves]. We kind of know the speed," said West Aurora coach Randy Hayslett, whose team is in a sectional final for the first time since 2017. "She's still tougher than anything, don't get me wrong, but we were prepared and felt confident coming in. We got some hitters who can hit."
Serafin, who previously homered and doubled in West Aurora's regional final win over Oswego, is one of them.
"She's a gamer, I don't know what to say. She's surpassing my expectations," Hayslett said. "Pitching-wise, she keeps them off balance, she's not overpowering but she moves in and out and today up a little, and she has good control."
Yorkville had an opportunity to break the game open early on Serafin.
Kaitlyn Schraeder's sacrifice fly in the second scored Lauren Koster, who had singled and taken third on a throwing error. The Foxes loaded the bases with two outs, but Serafin got Nehring to pop up to minimize the damage.
"We had seen her a couple times, we came in with a plan, and the girls executed it. They had a couple outfielders make great plays," Regnier said. "The big hit, we didn't have it today. It just wasn't our day."