Softball: Antioch's wild comeback completes sweep of St. Charles North
Jacey Schuler had one thought running through her mind late in Saturday's second game against St. Charles North.
The Antioch junior pitcher was part of a firework-like show of offense in the final game of the doubleheader. In the opener, the Michigan State recruit tossed a one-hit complete game shutout for a 7-0 victory for the second-ranked team in Class 3A, according to the Illinois Softball Coaches Association.
Schuler made quick work of the defending champions, striking out 10 batters to set up the possibility of a doubleheader sweep, even though the Sequoits were not scheduled to pitch their top-two hurlers.
Amid a flurry of offense -- a combined 34 hits, five home runs and 31 runs scored in the first six-plus innings of the second game -- Schuler watched the onslaught of runs with a simple thought: I want to end this game.
An elite pitcher who is considered one of the best in the state, Schuler struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh inning to end the offensive show, leading the Sequoits to a thrilling 16-15 comeback victory over the North Stars to sweep the twin bill.
Schuler, a right-hander, made her first relief appearance "in a long time" to earn her first save of the season.
"It felt so good," Schuler said of her save. "I told my coach after the sixth inning that I wanted to go in the game and pitch. This is what I live for. I live for the pressure. It was so exciting to be able to close out. Our team put in a lot of hard work into hitting, scoring and coming back. I just wanted to be able to close it for them."
Schuler (13-1) played a big part in the sweep, winning the first game and blasting a grand slam in an eight-run sixth inning to give the Sequoits a 13-11 lead.
"It felt so good to hit that home run," Schuler said. "Usually, in those situations, I don't think of a home run. I just kept it simple. It felt so good to hit a grand slam."
The Sequoits' comeback spoiled a stellar day at the plate in the second game by the defending Class 4A state champions. The Sequoits, who finished in third place in 3A last season, utilized four pitchers in the second game, including two who had yet to pitch for the varsity until Saturday.
Early in the second game, the North Stars (17-5) struggled against the Sequoits' different pitchers after facing off against the hard-throwing Schuler in the opener. Eventually, after a brief adjustment period, the North Stars' bats came alive and started punishing the ball all over the field.
St. Charles North sophomore Mackenzie Patterson led the hit parade with a two-run homer and a grand slam to finish with three hits and six RBIs. Freshman Abby Zawadzki belted a pair of two-run homers.
St. Charles North senior Julia Larson, who smacked a run-scoring double in the second game, said it was tough to lose the second game, especially after leading 9-4 through four innings.
"I think we saw a pitcher we really weren't expecting to see in the second game," Larson said. "We were hoping to come out with at least one win today. We tried to stay positive. We could've executed better in the first half and needed to make a couple of more plays in the infield in the second game."
St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said a five-error inning derailed his team in the opener, but he liked the fortitude his team showed in mounting several comebacks in the nightcap. The North Stars scored six runs in the fourth and added four more in the sixth before Antioch countered with a three-run seventh. Antioch senior Emily Brecht's two-out infield single was the winning hit. St. Charles North freshman shortstop Ginger Ritter made a fantastic play on the game-winning hit, diving to the ground but she couldn't throw out Brecht at first base.
"Ava Goettel pitched really well against a quality lineup in the first game," Poulin said. "Abby shows power in practice. She can hit the ball and is going to be a good one. It was good to see her do that. (Mackenzie) has really been hot and gotten better and better. She stayed hot today. It's been great to see her succeed. Antioch has a tough lineup. We will bounce back."
The Seqouits (24-1) rode the potent bat of senior Eden Echevarria to mount several comebacks. The Wisconsin recruit drilled a three-run double, belted a solo home and drove in another run with a hard-hit single in the sixth.
Antioch junior Grace Green, who had two hits in the final game and got a rare opportunity to pitch, said the comeback showed the heart and determination of the Sequoits.
"These were really big wins for us," Green said. "We were confident about the first game and skeptical about the second game but we kept each other up and played off each other's energy. We kept going, and this was a big two wins for us."
Antioch junior Nicole Kutcher echoed Green's statement.
"I think the second game was more relaxed and tried to have good energy throughout the game, going into it with two people pitch who aren't pitchers but we kept each other up and laughing and it ended up in a good result," Kutcher said. "
Antioch freshman Sam Hillner also took her first varsity stab at pitching during the final innings, even enjoying a few laughs on the mound. Hillner added a two-run home run in the opener.
"This was two good wins for us and we had a lot of fun today," Hillner said. "We weren't so uptight each game and that helped us and we played together as a team."