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Girls Soccer: Benet’s Season Ends in PKs; St. Francis Earns 1st State Trip

Both teams line up for starting lineup introductions before Tuesday’s game.

Benet held its opponents scoreless the first 285 minutes of the playoffs. 15 more minutes and the Redwings would have clinched a spot in 2A state semifinals.

The Redwings outscored their opponents 24-0 in their first three games, and held a 1-0 lead over St. Francis more than halfway through Tuesday’s 2A supersectional game played at Benedictine University.

But with 15:02 left in the second half, Spartans forward Amanda Gaggioli broke through the Redwing defense, scoring a goal to tie the game at 1-1. The game went to penalty kicks after the score remained tied through the duration of regulation and four ten-minute overtime periods. There, St. Francis outscored Benet 4-2 to earn a berth in the state semifinals.

“We’re not the best penalty kick team in the history of mankind,” Benet coach Bob Gros said. “We’ve worked on it. I’ve tried everything under the sun. But there’s so much psychology involved. There’s a little bit of luck too.”

Sydney Fox’s successful penalty kick sent St. Francis (22-3) to its first ever appearance in the state semifinals. Taylor Bucaro, Kaitlin Bucaro and Gaggioli also made penalty kicks for the Spartans.

“It feels great, it really does. I feel like this isn’t really real right now, but it’s great,” said Gaggioli

The Redwings dominated possession in the first half and outshot the Spartans 10-4 over the first 40 minutes. With 8:54 left in the first half, Jessica Smetana scored after receiving a great pass from Amanda Kaiser. The senior’s shot went off the far post and into the back of the net, putting the Redwings up 1-0.

The momentum shifted in the second half. The Spartans started to play more aggressively and dominated possession of the ball. With just over 15 minutes left in the second half, St. Francis snapped Benet’s 285 minute playoff scoreless streak when Gaggioli scored from 10 yards out after receiving a feed from Kaitlin Bucaro.

“I just saw the pass coming in, and my teammate (Fox) just let it go through her legs. I was open and just put it in,” Gaggioli said.

Worn down by temperatures in the mid-80s, both teams had trouble generating anything in the four overtime periods. St. Francis outshot Benet 5-2 over the last 40 minutes, and the Redwings didn’t get off a shot attempt over the last two overtimes.

Despite being outshot, Gros felt the Redwings had the better chances in overtime.

“In terms of more consistent pressure, I think in the last 40 minutes we had a little bit of an advantage there,” Gros said. “We just couldn’t get it in. You just have one of those days, and it doesn’t pay off.”

Benet finishes the season 18-5-3. The Redwings came into Tuesday’s game unbeaten in their previous 17 games.

St. Francis will play St. Viator at 11 a.m. Friday in the first of two 2A semifinals at North Central College in Naperville. Glenwood will face U. High of Normal in the second semifinal.

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun and yourseason.com. It appears here.

St. Francis players celebrate with their friends and family after the game.

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Boys Baseball: Clutch Hitting Propels Benet Past Naperville North

Benet coach Scott Lawler noted that his team didn’t seem defeated in the aftermath of the Redwings’ heart-breaking loss to St. Laurence on Friday

“We walked away yesterday and our heads weren’t low. They knew they battled a great team and got beat. I was hoping it would translate into the next day,” said Lawler.

And it did. The Redwings bounced back with a 6-4 victory over visiting Naperville North on Saturday in Lisle.

“Yesterday was a tough loss, St. Laurence is a really good team. It was hard to lose it in the seventh like that, and I’m real proud of how we came out there today and fought all the way through,” said Benet third baseman Sam Santa Maria. “We didn’t let yesterday bring us down. For that reason, it was a big win.”

A day after blowing the lead in the seventh inning, the Redwings had to hold off a late rally from Naperville North.

Benet led 6-2 going in to the seventh, but RBI singles by Huskies first baseman Alex Moss and Huskies catcher Tyler Hogan cut the Redwings’ lead to 6-4.

The Huskies then loaded the bases with two outs, but reliever Patrick McInerney struck out Huskies designated hitter Pat Mollo to end the game.

“Mac [McInerney] hadn’t pitched in a week. He’s a competitor, so I knew he would do as best as he could, but it was tough,” said Lawler. “He got the out though.”

The Redwings’ offense consistently came through in the clutch on Saturday. Five of the team’s six runs were scored with two outs.

After two outs were recorded in the first inning, back-to-back RBI doubles by McInerney and right fielder Andrew Mogni gave the Redwings an early 2-0 lead.

The Redwings (5-3) started a three-run rally in the fifth inning with two outs and the bases empty.

A single by Billy Tumpane, back-to-back RBI doubles by Chris Whelan and Chris Stout and an RBI single by Santa Maria gave the Redwings a 6-1 lead.

The Huskies (3-5) were led on offense by second baseman Nick Solak, who went went 2-for-2 with two walks and a triple. The junior went 3-for-3 on Friday and has reached base in seven straight plate appearances.

“He’s [Solak] doing all the right things offensively and he’s doing all the right things defensively,” said Naperville North coach Carl Hunckler. “He plays the game hard, and we love to see it. He’s a great role model for everyone else on this team.”

Saturday’s game wrapped up a five-game week for Benet. The Redwings went 4-1 and Lawler said he learned a lot about his team over its spring break stretch.

“Every game we came in and competed. We jumped up on some teams, we came from behind, had to hold off some rallies,” said Lawler. “We got tested this week in every way, and we lost. We saw what our team is made of by bouncing back.”

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun and yourseason.com. It appears here.

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Boys Baseball: Rajewski Tosses Shutout As Benet Beats Waubonsie Valley

Going into Thursday’s game against Waubonsie Valley, Benet starting pitcher Jordan Rajewski just wanted to keep his team in the game.

The right-handed junior did that and more, tossing a complete game shutout as the Redwings defeated the visiting Warriors 8-0.

“I just wanted to hold them to low runs, and set up the next guy,” said Rajewski. “I had no idea I’d go that many innings, I just wanted to keep the game close.”

Rajewski scattered seven hits and one walk over seven innings while striking out two batters. The junior was able to keep the Warriors off balance by mixing up his pitches.

“I started off throwing off-speed, and got them out in front. Then I just tried to paint the outside with fastballs,” said Rajewski. “I really had them guessing.”

Rajewski was able to work out of some first inning trouble. Waubonsie Valley had runners on second and third with just one out after Warriors catcher Tyler Josupait doubled to right field. However, Rajewski struck out Warriors third baseman James Palasz and got Warriors outfielder Zac Steele to line out to Benet second baseman Chris Stout to end the inning unscathed.

Benet coach Scott Lawler thought his pitcher’s first inning escape set the tone for the rest of the game.

“I think what really set him [Rajewski] apart was that first inning. He got out of the jam, and I think that was a big statement inning for him right there,” said Lawler.

In the second inning, the bottom of Benet’s lineup produced the Redwings’ first two runs.

No. 8 hitter Greg Arend reached base on an infield error, allowing Andrew Mogni to score the game’s first run. No. 9 hitter Billy Tumpane then drove in No. 7 hitter Joe Boyle on a sacrifice fly to center field.

Benet (4-2) pulled away with a six-run fifth inning. Stout capped off the offensive explosion with a single to right field that drove in Arend and Tumpane and put Benet up 8-0. Stout had three hits and two RBIs to lead the Redwings on offense.

“I’ve been up in big spots in a couple straight games and I haven’t really come through. I’m just getting more confident, and I’m looking to be more aggressive at the plate,” said Stout. “In the fifth, I stayed back on a first-pitch curveball and got the hit.”

Waubonsie Valley (2-2) coach Dan Fezzuoglio said his team had too many mental breakdowns on Thursday.

“We just can’t have them. They’re a good team, and credit to them for swinging the bats, but we have to do a better job from a mental standpoint to keep us in games,” said Fezzuoglio.

Lawler believes his team has taken on the right attitude this season and that it has led to early success.

“They’re hardworking kids. I think there are some high school teams out there that probably could make a few mistakes and still win. But we can’t, and the kids know that. We have to play well to win,” said Lawler.

“We’re scrappy, and I love the kids.”

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun, Aurora Beacon and yourseason.com. It appears here.

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