Softball: Geneva wins 11-inning thriller to reach sectional final
One of the parents on Geneva's softball team called it a delayed retirement, a phrase coach Greg Dierks said his team is rolling with.
Down two runs and down to their last strike against Plainfield East in the Class 4A Plainfield North sectional semifinal Wednesday, junior Carissa Bombardiere laced a 2-run single to tie the game at 3-3.
The teams battled through scoreless, tension-filled eighth, ninth and 10th innings until Madison Femia raced home on a passed ball in the 11th. Shelly Deisz put the finishing touches on a gutty performance, stranding the tying run at second by striking out the Bengals' No. 3 hitter and getting their cleanup hitter to pop up to first basemen Emily Viebrock to complete a 4-3, 11-inning thriller.
Dierks is retiring after 30 years coaching the Vikings who are extending his tenure as long as possible. Wednesday's win matches the 2003 team as the only other Geneva squad to reach a sectional final.
The 14th-seeded Vikings (17-11) will play for their first sectional crown at 4:30 p.m. Friday. Geneva faces No. 2 Downers Grove South, a 4-2 winner over Wheaton Warrenville South in the second semifinal Wednesday.
"We know every win added on to this is just an extra bonus because no one expected us to win the first couple games," Deisz said. "Getting to win it (today) is a big relief and now we're going to the next game with the same concept."
Plainfield East (15-20), seeded 12th and another surprise sectional semifinalist, put pressure on Geneva from the first inning to the 11th.
Deisz didn't record a single 1-2-3 inning yet constantly made the pitches when she had to, striking out 10.
"She just doesn't give up," her catcher, Femia, said. "She refuses to lose. She just keeps battling and battling and battling."
Plainfield East left 14 runners on base including a runner in scoring position in the seventh, ninth, 10th and 11th when a hit could have ended Geneva's season. Yet Deisz escaped each situation.
"I take really deep breaths," said the sophomore, who improved to 11-9. "My teammates knew I was stressed out and they just helped me through it. A couple teammates came out when I was struggling and told me some supportive things and it really helped me settle down and throw the pitches I needed to."
Locked in a 0-0 game in the bottom of the fifth, Deisz walked the Tigers' leadoff hitter, Jaden Hagadus, the No. 8 girl in the order. That turned into the first run of the game and a 3-run rally.
Hagadus moved to second on a bunt and third on a bloop single before scoring on a passed ball. After another walk, Adelina Staden ripped the only hard-hit ball in the inning, a 2-run single to make it 3-0.
Geneva, who ran themselves out of a chance in the fourth after a Viebrock single and Sydney Erdmann's double, got a run back in the sixth. Viebrock singled, reached third on Alyssa Kramer's double and scored on Erdmann's groundout.
Trailing 3-1 in the seventh, Bella Walton reached on an infield single. After the Bengals made their only error, a bunt put the tying runs in scoring position for Geneva's top hitter, Sam Keller. But she had a rare off day, finishing 0-for-6 and popping up to short, leaving the season up to Bombardiere.
With two strikes, Bombardiere lined a clean single to center that easily scored both runners to tie the game.
"I was pretty nervous," Bombardiere said. "I've been in a slump lately and just decided to trust myself and put eye to the ball and hit it."
Bombardiere also singled in the first and 10th to finish 3-for-5. Viebrock and Kramer added 2 hits each.
"That was clutch," Dierks said of Bombardiere. "What a great at-bat. She deserves that. She is sprinting all over the place in warmups trying to catch any ball anybody hits. She has a joy of a child out here and I mean that in a very positive way. It's infectious. Very happy for her."
In the 11th, Femia singled, took second on a walk and third on a groundout before scoring on a passed ball.
The last time Geneva reached a sectional final it didn't go well in an 8-2 loss to Lake Park. The Vikings will try for a different result Saturday.
"Last time it was more happy to be there and we got dominated a little. I think we have a different mindset. We're playing free and easy," said Dierks, praising what Deisz has done in the circle.
"If there was one thing she struggled with was longevity. She's gotten better at it as the year went on but going 11 was beyond tough. She continued to make good pitches when we needed them and got out of a lot of jams. And our defense held up today."