Softball: Kaneland comes from behind to win sectional semi
After the Kaneland softball team scored five runs in the bottom of the fifth to regain the lead against Rock Island in a Class 3A sectional semifinal Tuesday, Knights reliever Grace Algrim wanted to make sure she preserved the lead this time.
After a shaky start to her day in the fourth and fifth innings, Algrim allowed only one run over the final two innings, preserving Kaneland's 8-6 win over the Rocks.
"Those runs meant a lot to me," Algrim said. "They made me more motivated to make me do better."
Olivia Ortegel staked the Knights (20-5) to an early lead with a three-run homer to left field in the bottom of the third. But in the top of the fourth, the bats for the Rocks (22-6) started to figure out Kaneland starter McKenna Ryan. Campbell Kelly singled home Gabby Taber, who started the inning with a double -- the first ball to reach the outfield off a Rock Island bat.
Algrim came in with two on and one out to face the bottom third of the Rock Island lineup, but a run scored on a two-out error.
In the top of the fifth with the score still 3-2, Rock Island's Taylor Parnell led off the inning with a homer to center. The next three batters followed with two singles and a double. But Delia Schwartz, who reached on a two-run double, was called out for leaving second too early, then Ryan struck out the next two batters to escape the inning down two runs.
"My rise ball was not working like it should. My screwball wasn't working either," Algrim said. "So I just stuck to fastballs. They have good hitters, so I had to figure it out soon."
Given the reputation of the Rock Island hitters, Kaneland coach Mike Kuefler said he didn't want Ryan to face them three times.
"We wanted Kenny to run one time through their lineup," Kuefler said. "We didn't know if we wanted the top four to see her a second time. Kenny threw well against [Parnell, the Rock Island leadoff hitter] the first time. She bunted and got on. But she got another shot at her, and she did well. But coming around the third time, we decided to make that switch."
Kaneland got the runs right back in the fifth. Rock Island starter Kelley walked Kailey Plank and gave up a single to Rose Roach and an RBI single to Olivia Stoker to make the score 5-4. That chased Kelley from the game for Lexi Carroll, who opened with two wild pitches and two walks to tie the score.
Mackenzie Hardy hit a two-run single up the middle and came around to score on a sacrifice by Delaney Douglas to put Kaneland up, 8-5.
"We knew we had to keep pushing and get runs to score," Hardy said. "I just wanted to hit up the middle. I saw the pitch, and I just hit it."
Kuefler said he liked the way Algrim settled down after getting "knocked around." Ryan said Kaneland scoring those runs in the bottom of the fifth was huge.
In the sixth, Parnell hit an RBI triple with two outs to make the score 8-6, but Algrim retired Bella Allison -- who had been 2 for 2 with a walk -- to end the inning. In the seventh, Schwartz singled with one out, but Algrim induced Kelley into a double play to end the game.
"I told them simply sometimes the team that wants it more is going to walk away with the game," Kuefler said. "That's all I told them. And these ladies wanted it more today. That was a tough team we faced today. We were told the top four kids could hit, but they can hit through that lineup."
Hardy was 3 for 3 out of the No. 5 hole Tuesday with a run and two RBIs.
"We had her up at [No. 2], and we just didn't think she saw the pitches she should," Kuefler said. "We dropped her down, and she started seeing some pitches. She had a great day."
Roach had a pair of Kaneland's eight hits and scored twice. Plank had a single, walked twice and scored twice.
"We didn't play from behind very much this year, but when we did, we were able to chase back and take some games away," Kuefler said. "The way we were hitting that kid, we knew she wouldn't last too many more pitches. And she didn't."
The Knights will play for a sectional title Thursday at former Northern Illinois Big 12 foe Sterling. The teams did not play each other this year.
"We're excited to go out there," Kuefler said. "They always prepare their kids well. We're excited to go play."