Softball: Huntley brings home elusive sectional crown
Small ball beat the long ball in the championship game of the Class 4A Hampshire sectional Saturday.
And as a result the Huntley softball team is going further in the postseason than all the excellent Red Raider teams have gone before.
McHenry hammered a pair of home runs off Huntley ace Bri Bower, but the Red Raiders put the pressure on with their slap and bunt game, which was just enough to come away with a 4-3 win and the first sectional championship in school history.
Freshman Reese Hunkins blasted the first pitch she saw from McHenry's Alyssa Pearson in the bottom of the seventh off the center field fence to score Marley Reicher from third base to break the 3-3 tie and set off a wild celebration.
"It's been a long time coming," Huntley coach Mark Petryniec said. "If you look back a lot of 1-run games have knocked us out even going back 10 years ago. These girls were playing not just for themselves but every girl before them. This is a win for the program today. We challenged the kids to do something that's never been done."
Huntley (32-7) will play Hersey (27-6) in the Class 4A Barrington supersectional at 7 p.m. Monday.
"The past alumni left their legacy and we wanted to build from that and make history," Bower said. "Happy for them and happy for us and happy for Coach P."
After dispatching nemesis Barrington in the sectional semifinals, the Red Raiders took care of fellow Fox Valley Conference foe McHenry (23-13) who had defeated Huntley 1-0 on May 1.
The Warriors got off to a quick start Saturday. The second batter of the game, Jocelyn Currie, took a Bower offering out over the center field fence for a 1-0 lead.
McHenry catcher Tori Boysen picked a runner off second base to end the second inning before the Red Raiders used their speed to take control in the third. Reicher, the No. 8 hitter, reached on a throwing error, and Taylor Zielinski beat out a bunt single.
After Kendra Mitchell bunted them over, Hunkins tied the game at 1-1 with a line drive single to left, and Sofia Tenuta followed with a sacrifice fly to right for a 2-1 lead.
The Red Raiders did play a little long ball of their own when Grace Kutz blasted her 11th home run of the season in the fourth to make it 3-1.
McHenry again turned to its power bats in the sixth. A double by Currie and a two-out, two-run home run on a liner to left by Kate Funk tied the game at 3-3.
Still tied at 3 in the seventh, Bower retired the Warriors in order including the final two on strikeouts.
Again it was the bottom of the order starting the game-winning rally in the bottom of the seventh. Reicher, who said she gets to first base in 2.7 seconds, used every bit of that speed to beat out a comebacker. Zielinski advanced her to second with a groundout, and Mitchell reached on another slap single to put runners at the corners with one out.
McHenry brought its outfield in, and Hunkins -- a freshman -- drove the ball well over their heads for the sectional-winning RBI.
"I was just looking for my pitch and put it up the middle and I saw the outfielder was really in," Hunkins said. "I just had to hit it hard. I'm happy for the seniors."
"Great for a freshman to step up and go win a sectional championship," Petryniec said, adding after all the experience his second baseman has had this year with 53 hits, a .434 batting average and 27 RBI, "the only freshmen on our team are seniors."
Bower, now 24-5 this year with 324 strikeouts in 190 innings and a 1.17 ERA, allowed 4 hits and no walks while striking out nine.
"We got good swings. We were aggressive," McHenry coach Mikaela Mitsch said. "We're going to be honest. Huntley being in our conference, we're not the best of friends. We were excited to play them and we were mad we were and we were going to take that as fuel. We wanted to take it home for the FVC, but still proud the FVC is representing in some way.
"We tried. They just out-executed us. They are quick. Our third baseman has the quickest arm on our infield. Usually Lauren's (Schmitz) got it and it's not going to be a close play (at first). Not today."
Hunkins finished 3-for-4 with 2 RBI and Kutz was 2-for-2 combining for 5 of the team's 8 hits.
After mobbing Hunkins following her game-winning hit, the Red Raiders found Petryniec and doused him with a Gatorade bucket.
"I'll take that every time," Petryniec said. "Let's hope there's three more."
Playing in its fifth straight sectional but without a title to show for it, it was no wonder the Red Raiders posed for a few more photos and took a little extra time celebrating after Saturday's championship.
"To win sectional is such a huge deal," Reicher said. "I could not be happier now."