Softball: Schuler, Antioch close out Grayslake North in sectional semifinal
The two home runs were ancient history.
Jacey Schuler wanted another shot.
The Antioch freshman pitcher was trying to close out Tuesday's sectional semifinal softball game against Grayslake North. The host Sequoits had a 2-run lead and Grayslake North was down to its last out.
But up to bat came Morgan Nielsen, who had blasted 2 home runs in her previous 3 at-bats.
"We talked about possibly intentionally walking Nielsen in that situation," Antioch coach Anthony Rocco said. "I said to Jacey, 'I'll give you the choice. We can put her on, or you can face her.' And Jacey was like, 'I got you, I got you.' "
Schuler also got Nielsen.
Schuler struck out Nielsen to end the game in dramatic fashion and give Antioch a 5-3 victory over Grayslake North.
"I've always had pretty aggressive performances against (Grayslake North)," said Schuler, who is now 3-0 against the Knights and 24-3 overall on the season. "This whole time, I've just been trying to hit my spots because I know that if I throw it down the middle, they hit it pretty well. That's what happened with (Nielsen).
"But I was just trying my hardest. And I was focusing on my movement more because girls are starting to hit my fast pitches."
Schuler also focused on keeping her head in the game. As a freshman, she says she has to pay special attention to that.
"You just try not to let the pressure get to you," Schuler said. "I've played up a lot my whole life. That helps a lot in situations like this."
This will be the first time since 2016 the Sequoits are in the sectional final. That game will be played at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday at Wauconda. The Bulldogs are the top-seeded team in the sectional and have already swept Antioch in two games during the regular season.
But the Sequoits are 31-5 and have been hot, especially in their ability to light up the scoreboard with home runs.
On the season, Antioch has a total of 58 home runs as a team, which ranks tied for 10th in state history for most home runs in a season.
Schuler also leads the team in home runs with 14 and sophomore Eden Echevarria is right behind with 13.
Echevarria had a home run against Grayslake North, a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth that gave Antioch, up 4-3 at the time, some breathing room.
"I think the pitch on that was right in my wheelhouse," Echevarria said. "It was a little higher, middle. I was thinking 'hit it hard.' Not so much a home run, just get something, a single, a double. But it ended up going over and that really worked for us."
Nielsen's hitting really worked for Grayslake North.
Her home runs, a 2-run homer in the first inning and a solo shot in the fifth inning, generated all of the Knights' offense.
But that last at-bat had Nielsen emotional after the game.
"The emotions are very high," said Nielsen, who led the team with 11 home runs on the season. "But we had a very good season. And I don't think we lost, we just got beat. Antioch is very tough to beat. They've got a very good pitcher, but we hit her the best we ever hit her this season.
"(The home runs) felt really good. I was just thinking contact. She's a pretty fast pitcher and if you make contact, it's going to go."
Grayslake North finishes the season with a 21-8 record. Like Antioch, the Knights are young.
Antioch features a total of five freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup, while Grayslake North features three, including Nielsen who is just a sophomore.
"I think this will be a pretty good rivalry (in the future)," Grayslake North coach Amanda Rodriguez said. "We are losing some good players, but I also have a lot of good young players coming up."