Softball: Echevarria swings new bat, sends Antioch to sectional crown

Through 4-plus innings of the Class 3A Carmel Catholic softball sectional final Friday afternoon, Eden Echevarria's bat felt dead.

So Antioch's senior leadoff hitter/center fielder did something about it.

The Sequoit benched her stick, with top-seeded Antioch and third-seeded Wauconda locked in a 1-1 game in the bottom of the fifth inning in steamy Mundelein.

"I borrowed Jacey Schuler's bat," the Wisconsin-bound Echevarria said.

The loaner from her junior teammate paid off handsomely, because Echevarria - with Antioch's No. 9 hitter, junior Aubrey Ultsch, having singled to open the bottom of the fifth inning - belted a towering 2-run homer to left to give her club a 3-1 lead.

But Schuler's bat had plenty of life left in it. Its owner, who also serves as Antioch's ace, ripped a solo homer to left two batters later in the Sequoits' 5-1 victory, which secured a berth against Sycamore in the Kaneland supersectional Monday at 4:30 p.m.

"I liked how we answered their run with our first run right away," said Antioch coach Anthony Rocco, alluding to the 1-0 lead Wauconda (27-10) had taken via senior Bryn Lucht's solo homer - her 11th big fly of 2023 - in the top of the first inning.

Echevarria (2-4, HR, 2 RBI) doubled to left in her first at-bat. Most would have stopped at first base, but the fearless and speedy Echevarria thought nothing but two-bagger as soon as her sharply hit ball off Bulldogs junior ace Lesleigh Reimers began its flight to left field.

The future Badger stole third base with two outs and then scooted home on senior Emily Brecht's RBI single to right-center.

Neither team would score again until Antioch's 4-run fifth inning.

Ultsch (2-3, 2B), who batted mostly sixth in the order for the state's third-place Class 3A team last spring, did exactly what Rocco wanted her to do from the cellar of his batting order.

"We were looking for someone to get on base ahead of Eden," Rocco said after his mighty crew upped its record to 32-1 and Echevarria improved her team-best homer total to 11. "That's why she's batting where she's batting for us. Aubrey is patient as our No. 9, and she drives the ball."

Sequoits freshman first baseman Samantha Hillner (2-3, RBI) singled in the final run in the fifth after Brecht's one-out double.

"That was a critical inning," Wauconda coach Tim Orisek said. "You want to do all you can to retire their batters before facing the top of Antioch's order. That's a good team, a program that has done some nice things in the last three seasons, and I wish them all the luck for the rest of the playoffs.

"But I thought this was our year to beat them in the postseason; we all did. We had high expectations, as we always do."

Michigan State recruit Schuler (18-1, 0.08 ERA) fanned the first two Bulldogs she faced and was one strike away from a third consecutive strikeout when Lucht smacked a 3-2 pitch over the fence in left.

"I took it hard at first," Schuler said after her 4-hit, 9-strikeout performance. "But what helped was knowing my defense would back me up."

It did just that. Antioch freshman right fielder Jadynn Ruiz hustled to make a super, inning-ending catch while running into the fence in foul territory in the sixth. And Echevarria raced to her left in the seventh to make a diving snare inches above grass blades.

She then popped right up, knelt briefly in shallow center and unleashed an ecstatic scream that might have been heard in Madison, Wisconsin.

"It was a team effort," Rocco said. "We persevered before our huge inning. We came close to homering three times in that fifth inning. Our defense locked it up, and Jacey dialed it up when needed."

Wauconda's Reimers (16-5) went 4-plus innings, allowing 4 runs and 7 hits while striking out 3 and walking 1.

Wauconda's squad featured four seniors: Lucht, shortstop Lia Taglia, third baseman Haley Baldwin and catcher Savannah Powers.

"It would be nice to get each of them an extra year of eligibility, because COVID took away one of their seasons," Orisek said. "This team had such heart. The players made coming to the field so enjoyable and special for me. They're all genuinely nice human beings.

"I will never be able to thank our players for the great memories they gave me this spring."

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