Softball: Antonucci listens to coach, slugs Wauconda to sectional win over Carmel

As Wauconda junior left fielder Bella Antonucci strode to the plate in the top of the second inning of the Class 3A Carmel Catholic softball sectional semifinal on Wednesday afternoon, she heard someone yell two words:

"Stay hot!"

It was her coach, Tim Orisek.

Antonucci, who bats ninth in the order, then belted a 2-out, 2-run home run to right-center off Carmel senior ace Madison DeBennette. The blast - her third of the spring - gave third-seeded Wauconda a 3-0 lead and punctuated the start of Wauconda's 7-1 defeat of the second-seeded Corsairs in muggy Mundelein.

"I guess I stayed hot," a beaming Antonucci said afterward.

Antonucci also sparkled on defense, darting to her left in left field to make a sliding, sixth-inning catch to rob Carmel sophomore Grace Brown of an extra-base hit.

"Sneaky good and dangerous at the bottom of our order," Orisek said of Antonucci, whose mother, Mickie, caught when she played softball at Hersey, and whose grandpa Richard ("Pops") has taught her a ton about athletics, including the importance of having the right mindset while competing.

"Bella," the coach added, "hasn't just been hitting well lately; she's been hitting well at the right time."

Wauconda (27-9), which avenged an 8-2 regular-season loss to Carmel (23-6), will face top-seeded Antioch (31-1) for the sectional title Friday at 4:30 p.m.

Bulldogs junior starter Lesleigh Reimers had a marvelous outing, going the distance while allowing only 3 hits. She fanned 7, walked only 1 and improved to 16-4 in her duel with DeBennette (18-2).

"Lesleigh came through for us with her speed and spin," Antonucci said. "All of us brought the energy today. This was such a big win, doing it here at Carmel and against a very good pitcher."

Wauconda senior shortstop and leadoff hitter Lia Taglia (2-for-4) fouled off several feisty pitches from DeBennette in the top of the first before doubling to deep left field. Bulldogs second baseman Ellary Nick (3-4, 2 2Bs) followed with a bunt single, and center fielder Bryn Lucht (2-4, RBI) drove in the first run of the game via a sacrifice fly.

Carmel's Brown ripped a homer over the left-field fence to cut Wauconda's lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth. But Wauconda capped the scoring emphatically by getting back-to-back homers from third baseman Haley Baldwin and right fielder Alyssa Vodicka (2-4) after a sacrifice fly off the bat of senior catcher Savannah Powers in the seventh inning.

Vodicka also made a sensational catch in the bottom of the fifth, skidding in foul territory to retire Carmel junior Emma Carney, who had doubled in the third inning.

"Wauconda hit the ball well and made outstanding plays in the outfield," Corsairs coach and Warren graduate Kelli Layton said. "We had a lot of fight in us all season, plus good team chemistry."

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