Softball: Britton simply grand as Warren wins regional
One swing, two updates to Caitlyn Britton's staggering statistics that Warren coach Jenn Charbonneau just boasted about to her softball players and families.
"We just had our banquet and I got to talk about all her stats," Charbonneau said after her Central Michigan-bound pitcher/slugger led the way in the Blue Devils' 4-1 win over Grayslake North in the Class 4A Warren regional final Saturday. "She's just a great kid. She lives and breathes this game, and obviously it shows. She puts so much time and effort into it. I'm glad she could be up in that situation."
The situation: Sixth-seeded Grayslake North leading No. 3 Warren 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, bases loaded, none out, Britton up.
Crafty lefty Scout Kram, who had limited the Blue Devils to 3 hits through five innings, went full on Britton.
Britton then launched an outside pitch high and deep to right-center. Despite the wind blowing in, the ball easily cleared the fence for a grand slam. It was Britton's 19th homer of the season, 52nd of her four-year varsity career, and hiked her career RBI total to 219.
"I think it's one of the top memories I'll always have," Britton said, "because it was win or go home."
Britton then finished off a complete-game effort in the circle to send Grayslake North home and Warren to the Palatine sectional. The Blue Devils (23-4) will play Libertyville (25-7) in Wednesday's 4:30 p.m. semifinal. North Suburban Conference champ Libertyville beat Warren in a pair of one-run games during the regular season.
Grayslake North (26-10), which set a school record for wins and won its first Northern Lake County Conference title, had won a school-record 14 games in a row heading into Saturday. The Knights had also been blown out by Warren, 16-1 and 15-4, in a doubleheader on April 20.
"It was especially important for us to come out here today and play well considering that we got blown out the last two times we played them," Grayslake North coach Lea Corcoran said. "I wish it could have ended differently. We have a great group of seniors who put a lot of work in, and it's hard to see their season end, but Warren's a great team."
Grayslake North scored its lone run in the third when leadoff-hitter Faith Standerski tripled with two out and scored on an error off the bat of Nicole Hughes. Hughes, the Knights' freshman right fielder, helped her team maintain its 1-0 advantage in the fifth when she threw out the potential tying run at home on Kayla Nommensen's sharply hit single.
But Warren kept its offensive momentum going in the sixth. Kassie Jimenez led off with a walk, Kram hit Ashlyn Kitter, and Brooke Mangler reached on a bunt hit.
Charbonneau knew she had the right hitter up next: Britton, who was unanimously named the NSC player of the year.
"You couldn't ask for a greater position to be in," Charbonneau said.
And then Britton swung and went opposite field.
"It think it was a strike," Britton said. "I just remember swinging so hard and hoping to God I hit it over. The wind was blowing straight in, so I was like, 'Let's hit it on the ground. Let's hit it in a gap. Let's figure out how to get these runners in.' I was just trying to get our runners in and be a team player."
Kram had entered the game with an 8-0 record.
"She had the one bad inning, but it was a walk, hit batsmen and (bunt), and then you bring up probably the best hitter in Lake County," Corcoran said. "Playing with fire there. And that was pretty much the only pitch she hung."
Shortstop Standerski, who went 2-for-3 against Britton (12-2, 3 hits, 6 strikeouts, 1 walk), held her head high after the game.
"We played very well this game," said Standerski, a junior and Northern Iowa commit. "Caitlyn Britton is just a very good player, and she found her way, just like we found ours at the beginning of the game. Props to them."
"That's a quality team," Charbonneau said of Grayslake North. "They're coached well, and we knew they were going to come out ready for us."