Softball: St. Francis comes through with clutch hits to claim regional over Glenbard South
Because St. Francis' young team was able to stay alive with two outs at Saturday's Class 3A regional final at Glenbard South, the Spartans' season stayed alive, at least for one more game.
St. Francis scored four times after two were out in the top of sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie and eliminate the host Raiders 5-1. With the victory, St. Francis (21-12) advances to the St. Ignatius sectional semifinals Wednesday against top-seeded Benet, who beat No. 8 Fenton 16-0 on Saturday. The game will be played at UIC.
Sophomore Maggie Stewart drove home her team's first two runs against Glenbard South starter Hannah Rafferty-Flatter, and pitched three scoreless innings to pick up the win in relief of Meghan Suess, who held Glenbard South to just one run in four innings.
"Aside from the first inning we held them the whole game," said Spartans third baseman Natalie Doyle, whose 3-run double in the key sixth inning gave her team some breathing room. "Every at-bat I had I had an 0-2 count and when I went up there I knew we had to score again. We just had to. It was a 2-1 game, we had held them the whole game, I had an 0-2 count and she threw me outside. It felt good. It felt right. Our energy was there and we kept up the energy. We just never gave up."
With the game even at 1-1 in the top of the sixth, Rafferty-Flatter opened the frame with the ninth of her 11 strikeouts. But pinch-hitter Ainsley Callaghan singled and No. 9 hitter Adi Pizzuto followed with a single. Freshman Lauren Kennedy, who has an uncanny ability to get on base and score, was hit by a pitch to load the bases. A soft line out followed and the bases remained loaded with two outs.
That's when Stewart's infield single in the hole between short and third broke the 1-1 tie. Stewart had driven home St. Francis' first run with a sac fly in the fifth that plated Kennedy who had led off with a triple.
That set the stage for Doyle's bases-clearing double to the gap in right center, the clinching blow on this day. Stewart later gave up a lead-off double to Brooke Lange in the bottom of the seventh but worked out of a two-on, none-out jam to preserve the 5-1 victory.
"We usually have Meghan start the game and then I'll come in and close it. It works pretty well," said Stewart, a sophomore. "That was a great hit [by Doyle] and we got a lot of confidence then."
St. Francis also has plenty of confidence in its freshman leadoff hitter. Kennedy had a single and a double and scored her second run of the game after being hit by a pitch in the sixth. Coach Ralph Remus thinks her 60 runs scored this spring are easily the most ever by a Spartan.
"I'm a freshman so this is my first year and it's very exciting," said Kennedy, who bats first and plays shortstop, two roles not often given to freshmen. "I love my team. Throughout the whole game we never gave up. We kept pushing. We always pick each other up, and this is not the end."
It was a tough end to great careers for a pair of Raiders seniors -- Rafferty-Flatter and shortstop Amelia "Mia" Lake. Lake had two hits on Saturday and scored her team's lone run in the first on a double by Rafferty-Flatter.
"This obviously is the worst part of my job, saying goodbye to two 4-year varsity starters who lost a year to COVID," said Glenbard South coach Julie Fonda. "They're irreplaceable. Hannah only pitched three years and she's going to be in the record books for a long time… her strikeouts, on base percentage and batting average…and Mia is a do-it-all player. She's a leader, a great kid and she eats, drinks and bleeds the game."
Fonda credited the Spartans' ability to battle a strong pitcher and put the ball in play enough times to lead to runs.
"I guess the moral of the story is you never give up, and they didn't," she said. "Ralph should be proud of them and their desire to just put the ball in play against a really good pitcher. Anything can happen. I hope all of these girls are watching college softball and seeing the never-give-up, never-quit mentality that has permeated through the NCAA with softball in general."