Softball: Palatine takes the next step, clips Carmel
A year ago, the sectional semifinal was the end of the road for Palatine's softball team.
On Friday, the Pirates were back in the same game -- and this time, it was clear sailing from the outset.
An RBI triple by junior Grace Huff led to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and senior pitcher Sarah Grossman (20-2) took care of the rest as the No. 2-seeded Pirates posted a 6-2 win over No. 3 Carmel (20-15) at the Class 4A Warren sectional.
The Pirates (27-5) will face top-seeded Warren (28-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday for the championship.
Grossman did not give up a hit until the bottom of the sixth when Carmel scored its 2 runs on a two-out, 2-run double down the left field line by No. 3 hitter Jordan Swiatkowski that made it 6-2.
Grossman, who had not given up a run in five straight games, struck out the next batter and went on to complete a 3-hitter with 12 strikeouts and no walks.
"She's (Grossman) special," said Pirates coach Nicole Capalbo, whose players wore a special bow in their hair for their former classmate and standout Palatine athlete Courtland Cornelius, who passed away last Friday.
"Sarah put in a lot of work in the off-season with coach (Kristen) Proffitt (pitching coach). She is throwing hard in the seventh inning and that is very hard at the high school level. She has obviously thrown a lot of games for us (with more than 270 strikeouts this season) but she doesn't have to overthink anything because she can trust her defense."
Grossman became the first Pirates pitcher to win 20 games since Amy Mitchell in 2006.
"My defense has been really solid," said Grossman, who will play at Milwaukee School of Engineering next year. "Because of that, I am able throw the pitches I want. I go for different spots, and coach Proffitt does a nice job letting me relax and focus. I trust her and Anna (Selleck, junior catcher) to get it done."
The Pirates got it done offensively, led by Huff's 2-for-3 performance and a 3-run homer by Emily Parrott in the bottom of the sixth inning.
After a leadoff walk to Maddie Craver (1-for-1, 2 walks) and a single to center by Huff, Parrott connected on a 2-1 pitch and lined it over the center field fence to give her team a 6-0 lead.
"It's super exciting," said Parrott, whose other home run this spring was against Prospect. "It was a pitch right down the middle. I was like 'OK, I'm going to take it.' But my teammates ahead of me really did their job. I just adjusted at the plate and did what I had to do to help my team."
Sophomore Rhiann Dick did her job in the bottom of the fourth when she led off with a sharp double to left. She then took third base and home on a wild pitch and passed ball for a 3-0 lead.
Amanda Stanczuk, batting cleanup, and Selleck also had hits for the Pirates.
"We switched our lineup a bit," Capalbo said. "Amanda has been consistent all season. I think up and down the lineup we are hitting well and those first four hitters (Craver, Huff, Parrott and Stanczuk) are hitting real strong for us."
Carmel's strongest threat came in the sixth when No. 9 hitter Emily Haley broke up the no-hitter with an infield single and took second on an error.
Shortstop Marla Walinski followed with a single to center.
After a sharp fly out to right by Emy Krysa, Swiatkowski delivered her double for the first runs off Grossman in the postseason.
"I love those situations with runners on base and a full count," said Swiatkowski, who played on Carmel's 2016 team that went downstate, finishing fourth in Class 3A. "I was just looking for a pitch I could hit. I had no other option."
Carmel coach Shane Schueneman was impressed by Grossman.
"That's tough when you get a pitcher on a roll like that," he said. "And we came out and made a couple of mistakes early and then we were back on our heels.
"But you've got to give Palatine credit. She pitched well and they are a very solid team."
The Corsairs are young, and Schueneman is looking forward to the future.
"We have six or seven starters coming back and two are freshman," he said. " Our No. 1 pitcher (Sydney Schuda who had 3 strikeouts on Thursday) will be back and Walinski is our No. 2 and Darcy Petrus is our No. 3. They all juniors."
"A lot of our girls came up when we went downstate two years ago so they've seen what this is all about"
Schueneman liked how his team prepared for the trip to Gurnee.
"We had a good warmup at Carmel before we came here," he said. "I thought we were ready, but mistakes happen. Good teams take advantage that's what Palatine did.
"But this was a big success for us to get this far. This is your goal -- to have this chance. I told the girls the other day 120 teams are home and we still get to play softball."
The Pirates get to keep playing against a team they know quite well.
Warren has eliminated the Pirates from postseason play the last three seasons.
"We are super excited," Parrott said. "We know it will be a hard game but we are excited to come out and hopefully win. We lost 1-0 to them early in the season so we are excited for this game. We are ready to break the curse."
"Warren is a great team," Capalbo said. "They have pitching, hitting and defense. It's their home field. I think they just carry themselves as winners and I think our girls have learned what a winning tradition feels like. I think we are that point that when we step out on the field, we think we can beat anyone."
Capalbo liked how her team looked the field on Thursday.
"We lost this game last year so it was nice to see our girls take the field with some sense of urgency," she said. "I think every aspect of our game is working well now so we are excited to play Warren on Saturday.
"We're going to focus on ourselves. As long as we do what we need to do, we are going to give them a tough game and hopefully come out winners."