Softball: Hampshire's lead slips away
Crystal Lake Central trailed three times Monday against Hampshire but never wavered.
"We never take our foot off the gas," freshman pitcher-shortstop Olivia Shaw said. "We might start slow, but we always pick it up. That's the resilience we have."
Central rallied again and again and eventually went on to beat Hampshire, 9-6, in their Fox Valley Conference softball game.
No inning was bigger than the bottom of the fifth when the Tigers (4-2, 2-0) scored six runs after Hampshire (3-3, 1-1) had just scored three runs in the top half to grab a 6-3 lead. Central kept the pressure on starting pitcher Lily Sippel and the Whip-Purs infield defense.
The Tigers ended up scoring three of their six runs in the inning on one play. After loading the bases with one out, Gianna Carone (1 for 4, two runs scored) knocked in the first run and reached on a fielder's choice, keeping the bases loaded.
A wild pitch to the next batter, Courtney Schober, allowed Makayla Malone (1 for 4, double) to score from third base. Shaw went from second to third on the play and took a wide turn around the base before retreating. The trailing runner, Carone, was caught halfway between second and third and caught in a rundown.
A throw to second from catcher Bria Riebel ended up in center field, which allowed Shaw and Carone to score for a 7-6 lead. Avery Bechler then reached on a fielding error and, after another wild pitch, Sophia Nieckula knocked in Schober (3 for 3, three runs) and Bechler.
Tigers coach Brian Strombom was proud of his team's calm approach.
"One of the things that I love best about this team is they have no instinct to quit," Strombom said. "They're not panicked. We hit to the right side, we took extra bases and we didn't get reckless. I just liked how everyone was willing to do their part and not do too much."
Nieckula drove in a run in all three of her at-bats, going 2 for 3 with a double and four RBIs. Strombom called the sophomore left fielder one of Central's smartest hitters. Both of Nieckula's hits went up the middle, and her third at-bat resulted in an RBI groundout the opposite way to second base.
"I think I just connected really well today," Nieckula said. "I saw the ball early. I usually try to drive it to right field, so I can get those runs in. We have a lot of young talent, and it's really great that we can come back and get our lead back."
Shaw entered in relief in the top of the fifth inning with runners on first and second, nobody out and the game tied at 3. She allowed two inherited runners to score on wild pitches, while Bria Riebel, who reached on a walk, scored the third run when she stole home after a pickoff attempt from Tigers catcher Giada Motto.
Shaw struck out the last nine batters she faced to earn the win, allowing no hits. Carone started and went four-plus innings, allowing five runs (two earned) on five hits. Carone had four strikeouts and three walks.
"It was definitely stressful," Shaw said of entering in the fifth. "I definitely don't want to let my team down, but I don't want to let that stress get to me. I just want to throw the first strike and try and get ahead. We're resilient. We never give up, and that's what I love about this team."
Elyse Garcia was 1 for 3 with a double and two runs for Hampshire, Sippel had a double and drove in a run, and Julia Sobin added an RBI single. Sippel started and gave up nine runs (six earned) on 10 hits in six innings. She struck out three and walked none.
Hampshire coach Jeremy Bauer said his team is still working on getting better defensively.
"They put the ball in play and did what they needed to do, but we need to play better defense," Bauer said. "We put the ball in play and scratched together some runs on a few good hits against their first pitcher. I thought we were in a position to win. We just couldn't stop them."