Softball: Hersey upsets Palatine in 10 innings
In the most important game of her four-year varsity career, Brianna Luciano showed why she was the Mid-Suburban East Player of the Year.
The Hersey shortstop saved the game for her team in the bottom of the seventh with her glove and arm.
Then she used her bat in the top of the 10th inning to start Hersey's winning rally for a dramatic 4-3 win on Tuesday in the Class 4A Palatine softball sectional semifinal over the host and top-seeded Pirates (29-3).
The nerve-wracking triumph, which came on heels of an 11-inning 4-3 win over Carmel for a regional title, put the No. 4 Huskies (26-6) in Friday's 4:30 p.m. sectional championship against the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between No. 2 Libertyville and No. 3 Warren.
"Bri played outstanding at short," said Hersey senior Sarah Bailitz (14-2), who was outstanding on the mound along with her Palatine counterpart, Rhiann Dick (26-3), as the two squared off in one the best games of the season.
"Bri's triple was insane. We've had each other's backs the last four years. The three of us (including senior Makayla Tsagalis) of us have gone through so much and we've never gotten this far. One of our goals was to do damage in the sectional and we did that."
Hersey scored twice in the top of the first. Tsalagis led off with an opposite field double just inside the left field foul line. Luciano then delivered a one-out RBI single and Chloe Gordon produced with a two-out RBI single.
Palatine tied the game with 2 runs in the bottom of the fifth, getting an RBI on Chase Friel's bunt and an RBI single to right center from Grace Huff.
The Pirates had a chance to win it in the bottom of the seventh with two outs and a runner on second.
Amanda Stanczuk hit a hard shot between short and third. Luciano raced to the hole to get a glove on it, and the ball rolled a few feet past her. She scooped it up and fired a strike to catcher Morgan Breden, who made the tag on the sliding runner to send the game to extra innings.
"I just knew I had to knock it down," said Luciano, who on the previous play made a terrific backhand stop to rob Grace Huff of a single to left. "Sarah was working so hard this game. I just wanted to have her back.
"I was going to do everything I could for her. I was just praying Morgan would catch it and put the tag down. I was so happy when I saw her do that."
"Those two plays (by Luciano) were outstanding," said Hersey coach Molly Freeman. "First the backhand and then to have the diving save and throw that runner out at the plate was huge. That really saved the game for us."
Then Luciano helped Hersey win the game.
With two outs in the top of the 10th, Luciano tripled sharply to the right field fence.
"I knew I had to get something started," said Luciano, who went 3-for-5. "As a senior, that's my job. This could have been our last game in a Hersey uniform and I wanted to do something for my team."
Luciano came home when Bailitz belted a double off the left field fence for the 3-2 lead.
Bailitz then went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Kylie Makuh's (2-for-5) grounder up the middle that just got past the glove of the diving second baseman.
It turned out to be the winning run as the Pirates showed their fight in the bottom of the 10th.
Emily Parrott led off with a deep triple to center field and came on Stanczuk's single to center.
However, Bailitz got the next three batters, the final two on a fly to center fielder Ria Patel and a grounder to Gordon at third who threw to Natalia Kubsik at first to start the Huskies' celebration.
"This is the first time we've gotten this far since we've been here," Balitiz said of her senior group. "We're such a fun team.
"There were a few times I doubted myself and I got a little nervous but my teammates kept me going. They played outstanding defense behind me."
The Mid-Suburban League champion Pirates had defeated Hersey twice this spring, 2-1 in a MSL crossover and 4-2 in the MSL championship.
"They're a great team and we knew it was going to be a battle," Bailitz said. "It was very hard to go up against them three times. They have a great record and are a fantastic team. It took all hands on deck to win game like this."
Parrott went 3-for-5 for Palatine while Huff and Stanczuk were 2-for-4.
"We knew we had two close games with them before so that this was going to be a battle, " said Palatine coach Nicole Capalbo. "We didn't capitalize when we had base runners. Hersey is a great team and unfortunately it just didn't go our way.
"But what a special senior class this has been. They definitely left the program better than when they started four years ago. I believe they won 12 games their freshman year and they've completely turned it around to the point where they lose a sectional semifinal and they are not satisfied. So we just have to remember this feeling and not let it happen again."
The Huskies will be at it again on Friday, coming off a combined 21 innings -- all pitched by Bailitz -- in their last two games.
"We seem to be just as strong after 10 or 11 innings as when we start the game in the first inning," Freeman said. "And that's a good thing -- it shows how hard they train.
"Sarah and (Morgan Breden) combined for another 10 innings this game. That's just sheer grit. They just wanted to win. They gutted it out.
"You've got to credit Palatine. They have a fantastic team and their girls are grinders. Playing them three times was not easy. We are real proud of this accomplishment."