Softball: Neuqua Valley tracks down conference crown
It's not uncommon for high school softball teams to get one last postseason tuneup against a nonconference team the Saturday before the postseason begins.
However, for some area teams there was still conference business to finish. For Neuqua Valley, its task Saturday on its home field was to clinch the DuPage Valley Conference title.
For that to happen required two victories, and the Wildcats handled both tasks. They beat Naperville North 12-6 in the morning and Waubonsie Valley 8-0 in a storm-shortened contest in the afternoon.
Neuqua coach Christina Chrencik was happy the Wildcats were facing this type of situation so close the playoffs.
"I told the girls that trying to win conference was good pressure to feel because it's what we'll see on Wednesday," she said.
The Wildcats (18-8, 10-2), seeded fifth in the Class 4A Plainfield North sectional, open postseason play Wednesday in an Oswego East regional semifinal against 12th-seeded Plainfield East.
Neuqua finished with 13 hits against the Huskies. Everyone in the Wildcats lineup got at least one hit.
"It's been a total team effort especially with hitting," said Wildcats left fielder Bailey Clarke, who smashed a solo homer in the third.
Neuqua got right to work in its half of the first jumping out to a 6-0 lead on 3 hits.
A 2-run homer by winning pitcher Hannah Meeks, a 2-run single from Kelsey O'Connor and an RBI basehit from Alana Batista were the key hits of that scoring spurt.
Leadoff hitter Chloe Steinhaus led off with a single to right in the second and scored on a throwing error. Besides Clarke's homer in the third, Steinhaus made good on an RBI single.
That gave the Wildcats a 9-1 advantage that went to 12-1 in the fourth thanks to an RBI double by Batista and run-scoring single from Meeks.
"I think our cohesiveness as a team has been crucial. As a team, we've really come together," Steinhaus said.
For the first four innings the Huskies' lone run came courtesy of Kendall Kedziora's double to right that scored Allison Arnold, who had singled.
But as Naperville North (12-17, 4-8) has shown all season, it keeps battling until the end of a game.
With one out in the fifth, Emma Johannes walked and then Alexis Hilgert was hit by a pitch. That set the stage for Alyssa Vansickle, who hit a 3-run homer.
In the seventh Sarah Smith's 2-run double added 2 more runs for the Huskies.
"This is the most fight I've seen in a team. They are always scoring runs late," said Naperville North coach Jerry Kedziora.
The Huskies, seeded 13th in the Plainfield North sectional, open postseason play Monday by hosting a regional quarterfinal against 19th-seeded East Aurora.
"Our 12 wins showed us playing really good defense and everyone hitting from top to bottom. In our last 13 games, we have not been consistent defensively or consistently hitting through the lineup. We need to turn on the switch," Kedziora said.