Softball: Wauconda hangs on to beat Crystal Lake South
When Crystal Lake South starting pitcher Brooke Kuffel shut down Wauconda's high-powered offense early during Tuesday's Class 3A sectional softball semifinal, Bulldogs coach Tim Orisek was forced to adjust.
Though Kuffel allowed three baserunners over her first three innings, she didn't allow a hit to the first 12 batters she faced.
Subsequently, the No. 1-seeded Bulldogs faced a 1-run deficit headed to the bottom of the fourth -- courtesy of Kuffel's first-inning solo homer to center.
"Brooke was changing her speeds and locations incredibly well out there," Orisek said. "We were frustrated. I had to start playing small-ball, calling for bunts, and doing things we typically wouldn't do."
The Bulldogs rose to the occasion, rallied, then held on during some tense moments for a 4-3 win over the No. 4-seeded Gators.
Wauconda (21-5) opened its half of the fourth inning with a pair of singles, one of which ricocheted off Kuffel's left foot. That was followed by Bulldogs third baseman Julia Fohlmeister's hooking liner to left, which was dropped by the left fielder.
Kuffel then walked home runs against the next two batters she faced, giving the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead. Kuffel was hit in the foot with a line drive a second time later in the inning, both deflecting to second baseman Steph Lesniewski. Neither resulted in an out, as she didn't have time to react.
"We'll never know, but that first liner hit her plant foot, and I sincerely wonder if it didn't affect her accuracy briefly there," Orisek said. "Because she was spot-on with her location prior to that.
"After that, we were just disciplined. We didn't swing at her pitcher's pitches. We became really selective, and that was the difference in the game. Discipline has been a huge key to our success all year."
After the walks, Bulldogs No. 9 hitter Reese Pozen singled home a pair of runs to make it 4-1. It was the only inning Wauconda got to Kuffel, who scattered 5 hits, while striking out seven.
Later, in the top of the sixth, with Wauconda still up by 3, South catcher Alexis Pupillo belted a one-out opposite field single to left, which brought Kuffel to the plate.
Kuffel, a Wisconsin commit, cranked a 2-run homer to center, just to the right of the flagpole. It was her second longball of the afternoon, and fourth in her last two games. That cut the deficit to 4-3.
But Bulldogs pitcher Rachel Peat (7 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 7Ks) shut the door in the seventh with a 1-2-3 inning, sending Wauconda to Thursday's Class 3A sectional title game against No. 2-seeded Antioch, at 4:30 p.m.
Antioch defeated Grayslake North, 5-3, in Tuesday's other sectional semifinal.
"I just played today like it was our last game out there and took it one pitch at a time," Peat said. That's a heck of a tough team we just beat. Much respect to them."
For the Gators (16-11), it was the final varsity game for seniors Evelyn Smith, Grace Moretti and Kuffel, who all posed for a team photo after the loss.
Despite being one of the top high school hitting prospects in the country, Kuffel had never pitched prior to this season, making her effort Tuesday much more noteworthy.
"When they asked me to pitch this season, I was kind of in shock," Kuffel said. "But I did my best and learned to embrace the challenge. I actually learned how to pitch from watching YouTube videos, if you can believe that."
"Two words: Brooke Kuffel," South coach Patrick Kelly added. "A senior who didn't want that to be her or her teammates' last high school softball game today. Her and our other two seniors led by example all year. One or two things go differently out there, and it's us advancing and not them.
"Credit to Wauconda, they took advantage of our mistakes like good teams do, and that's why they won the game."