Softball: West Aurora upsets Neuqua Valley in sectional final
This one is going to sting for a while, but only because the Neuqua Valley softball program has come to expect big comebacks and great outcomes.
On Friday the Wildcats got neither and their season came to a close after a 2-0 loss to West Aurora in the 4A Yorkville sectional final.
Neuqua Valley (28-6), playing in a sectional title game for the second straight season, just couldn't come away with the big hits needed to get past Blackhawks sophomore pitcher Katelyn Serafin, who improved to 7-3 this spring after her 4-hit shutout.
"Today our bats were just popping up," Wildcats coach Dani Asquini said. "She was pitching low into the zone and I think we just tried to over compensate for that and we were hitting everything up in the air."
West Aurora, meanwhile, mustered just enough offense against Wildcats ace Hannah Meeks, who had 10 strikeouts but suffered the tough loss. Meeks (11-4) made very few mistakes but when she did the Blackhawks capitalized.
Leadoff hitter Riley Mont opened the game with a 2-strike home run to left field for what proved to be the only run needed on Friday. But she walked and scored in the third when freshman Keira Hayton doubled to the wall in right center in the third inning to make the score 2-0.
The Wildcats kept battling, but Maia Clifford's apparent home run in the sixth was caught over the wall by center fielder Callie Meinel. In the seventh, Meeks led off with double for Neuqua but didn't get any further than third base.
"Just too many pop-ups today and we couldn't those runs in," said Asquini, whose team lost to Yorkville last year in the sectional finals. "That was a home run and we were robbed, but defensively they had a really sound game."
West Aurora coach Randy Hayslett couldn't be any prouder of his squad and his young pitcher. The sixth-seeded Blackhawks knocked off the 1, 3 and 4 seeds in the sectional on their way to reaching Monday's supersectional at Illinois Wesleyan University against Edwardsville.
"Listen, I thought we'd probably have to score 4 or 5 which would be a challenge," he said. "They're a senior dominated team, a solid order 1 through 9. It wasn't easy. We had a hard road."
Meeks closes out her solid career with 185 strikeouts and a number of big hits, including her 14th home run that came in the team's sectional semifinal against Naperville North.
"This team is really special," Meeks said. "We have nine seniors and many of us played together since we were like 8. We all fought really hard for it and it was really emotional."
Clifford, a senior shortstop, also was emotional after the tough setback. "It's really hard. Sometime your hits just don't fall," she said. "It makes it harder when everyone does everything they absolutely can and you still fall short. It hurts a lot. This is my third year on varsity. It's really hard to say goodbye. It's hard to end your season on a loss."