Softball: Kaneland KOs 29-2 Sterling
There's nothing unlucky about the number 13 to the Kaneland softball team.
The Knights won their 13th straight game Thursday, upsetting Sterling 6-2 in the semifinals of the Class 3A Marengo sectional, thanks in large part to one swing by No. 13 Hannah Theobald.
One of the few seniors on an otherwise young and talented Kaneland squad, Theobald erased Sterling's 2-1, fifth-inning lead with her first grand slam.
Donatela Sommesi started the rally with a single against Sterling starter Jayme Eilers, who beat the Knights 5-1 earlier this season.
Rose Roach and Hailey Roach both walked, setting the stage for Theobald. She lined her home run over the left-field fence after just missing a home run her first at-bat.
"Coach telling us to lay off the rise and I let her come in and took advantage of it," Theobald said. "It was pretty meaty. I thought I'm not going to miss that. I decided to take a big whack at it and it paid off for me."
All of Kaneland's offense came via the long ball. Freshman Rose Roach supplied the other two runs with solo home runs, one to start the scoring in the first inning and the other to end it in the seventh.
Kaneland (24-9) will play Rock Falls for the sectional championship at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Knights defeated Rock Falls 8-2 two weeks ago, part of the current winning streak that has seen the Knights go from a .500 team to two wins away from the state tournament.
"Our chemistry as a team, we have really fought together," Rose Roach said. "We had a rough road but we came together as a team."
"We figured out who we are as a team," winning pitcher Emilee Erickson said. "We figured out how to win games. The first part of the season we had forgotten what we were here to do and I think we remembered and we really got it together and I'm really proud of us."
Roach quickly put Kaneland ahead Thursday. The second batter of the game, Roach launched her home run well over the right-field fence.
"That first run let Emilee relax for an inning or two and let our hitters relax," Kaneland coach Mike Kuefler said. "She's (Roach) just getting better and better. We really enjoy Rose's presence on the field and at the plate. She's really an exceptional player."
Erickson stranded four runners in her first three scoreless innings, striking out five. Two errors helped Sterling get to Erickson for a pair of runs in the fourth.
Sterling (29-3) put runners on base in every inning except the second, stranding 10 in the game. Erickson continually made big pitches when she had to, including the bottom of the seventh when Sterling's first 3 hitters reached only to watch the sophomore leave the bases loaded, striking out Cara Alexander to end the game -- her 10th strikeout.
"I was just trusting my defense," Erickson said. "They obviously are very talented. I just wanted to put my faith in my defense and not press too much. I wanted to make sure I was sharp because they will take advantage of any mistakes you make."
Roach's second home run also sailed far over the right field fence, this time on a low changeup.
If the Knights can make it 14 wins in a row Saturday, they get to come home Monday for the supersectional.
"We are really hungry for that one with our super at home," Theobald said. "Hopefully we can put up another win."