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Girls Softball: Naperville North Knocks Off Plainfield East To Reach First Sectional Final In School History

Naperville North softball entered uncharted territory by winning Wednesday’s Class 4A East Aurora Sectional semifinal against Plainfield East.

Behind a strong outing from pitcher Kathleen Hahne and a two-run homer by Tara Degl’lnnocenti, the Huskies will make their first appearance in a sectional final after knocking off the Bengals 5-2 at Phillips Park in Aurora.

Naperville North, the No. 6 seed in the East Aurora sectional, will face No. 4 seed Plainfield Central at 11 a.m. Saturday in the sectional final.

“I don’t know what Saturday will be like, it’s going to be brand new for Huskies softball,” Naperville North coach Jerry Kedziora said.

“We’ve got a good pitcher right now, we’ve got a team that’s playing really good defense. And some timely hitting too. It’s pretty exciting — our chances might not set up ever as good as they are right now,” he added.

Hahne picked up the victory after giving up two runs and ten hits and striking out three batters over seven innings.

The senior showed some early-game nerves, giving up two runs on six hits during her first two innings in the circle. However, Hahne settled down from that point forward, surrendering no runs and just four singles the rest of the way.

“I always get really nervous for a game. It takes me a few batters to get into my own and work my pitches,” Hahne said.

Degl’lnnocenti gave the Huskies a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning with a line-drive, two-run homer to left field.

An RBI single by Bengals shortstop Nina Maggio tied the game at 2-2 in the second inning, but the Huskies retook the lead in the third. Caitlyn Warren came home on an RBI groundout by Kailee Budicin, giving Naperville North a 3-2 advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Huskies added two insurance runs in the fifth inning, going up 5-2 on an RBI triple by Warren and a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Budicin.

“We knew that we had to come out and hit. We knew that they were going to be gunning for us, and everyone did a great job,” Degl’lnnocenti said.  “It took a team effort, and we got it done.”

Hahne was assisted by a strong defensive performance from her teammates. The Huskies committed only one error and made a few sterling defensive plays, including a momentum-changing double play in the fourth inning.

With one out and a runner on first base, Degl’lnnocenti cleanly fielded a hard-hit ground ball off the bat of Maggio and threw to shortstop Alexis Solak for the force out. First baseman Rachel Martin barely kept her foot on the bag as she made a fantastic stretch to collect Solak’s throw and complete the double play.

After that play, Hahne gave up just one more hit and the Huskies outscored the Bengals 2-0.

“To be able to turn a 4-6-3 like that, and those girls making every play possible from the third inning on, it’s a tremendous confidence boost,” Kedziora said. “These girls should now know that they can go out and compete against anybody.”

Plainfield East (22-12) was led on offense by No. 9 hitter Jessica Rio, who went 3-for-3 with three singles. Rio attempted to score on a single by Maggio in the second inning, but was thrown out at home by Huskies left fielder Stephanie Tobin.

Naperville North (24-12) will attempt to earn its first sectional title plaque when they face Plainfield Central on Saturday. The Wildcats advanced to the finals by defeating Neuqua Valley 2-1 on Wednesday.

“We know that we’re going to have our hands filled with Plainfield Central,” Kedziora said. “If we just go head out and play our game, maybe we can get something.”

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

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Girls Softball: Keegan Hayes Does It All As Naperville Central Knocks Off No. 1 Glenbard North

Behind The Fence: Glenbard North’s Lilly Fecho winds up on Wednesday.

A team needs a special performance if it is going to beat the No. 1 ranked team in the state.

That’s exactly what Naperville Central got from pitcher Keegan Hayes on Wednesday as the visiting Redhawks defeated No. 1 Glenbard North 2-1 in a DuPage Valley Conference duel.

The right-handed sophomore gave up one run and four hits in seven innings of work and provided all of the Redhawks offense on a two-run home run in the fourth inning. Naperville Central improved to 21-5, 10-1.

Hayes’ home run, the first of her career, came against Panthers ace Lilly Fecho. Hayes had struck out in her four previous at bats against the Purdue-bound Fecho this season and was in an 0-2 hole before launching the home run over the left-center field fence.

“I was shocked, it didn’t feel like a home run,” said Hayes. “I hadn’t hit so well off of Lilly, so I was really surprised. It didn’t feel like one.”

Fecho had a chance to return the favor with the Panthers trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning. With runners on first and second and two outs, Fecho hit a rocket to Redhawks shortstop Kelsey Gonzalez.

Gonzalez made a great stop and tossed the ball over to second baseman Nicole Kappelman for the force out to end the game.

Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum praised Gonzalez’s defense after the game.

“I am glad she is on my team. She did what she had to do,” said Nussbaum. “I’m glad she’s on my team and I think I’ve said that about 100 times this year.”

Glenbard North (25-2, 9-2) took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI double by Kelsey Muller. However, after the first inning the Panthers managed just two more hits.

Fecho had another strong outing, striking out nine batters while giving up seven hits and two runs over seven innings.

After starting the season 20-0, Glenbard North has lost two games in the last ten days. Panthers coach Josh Sanew said his team needs to get things going offensively again.

“We’re sort of heading the wrong way as we’re getting towards the state playoffs,” said Sanew. “I feel like our bats have gone a little bit down here the last five games. We’re just not coming up with that big hit, we’re leaving a ton of people on base. We’ve got six games to turn this thing around and headed in the right direction.”

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

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Girls Softball: Oswego Claims City Pride With Comeback Victory Over East

Oswego’s Kristy Tracy faces Oswego East’s Alex Wagner on Thursday.

More than just a win was on the line Thursday when crosstown rivals Oswego and Oswego East squared off for the second time this season.

“It was just about pride. Pride over who owns Oswego softball,” said Panthers pitcher Stephanie Prentice.

Prentice had three hits, including a home run, as host Oswego overcame an early five-run deficit to defeat Oswego East 7-6 in a Southwest Prairie Conference matchup.

The Panthers completed a season sweep of the Wolves and earned the right to call themselves the queens of Oswego softball.

“That’s a big deal for the girls. I know they’re excited about it,” said Panthers coach John Carlson. “That will definitely be a high point of this year for sure.”

The Wolves got things going early, scoring five runs in the first inning. Brittany Warnecke, Molly Talaska and Alex Wagner each contributed run-scoring hits as East pulled out to a quick 5-0 lead.

But Prentice held down the Wolves from that point forward, allowing just one run and one hit in her final six innings of work.

The sophomore was also a big part of the Panthers’ comeback at the plate, collecting three hits – including a third-inning home run – and scoring three runs.

“I just wanted to come back and try to throw strikes again because I was a little all over in the first inning. I wanted to come back and fight for it,” said Prentice.

Oswego (9-13, 2-8) chipped away at the Wolves’ lead, scoring one run in the first and two each in the third, fifth and sixth.

Jessica Clark’s sixth inning single brought home Brooke Riess and gave the Panthers their first lead of the game, 7-6. Earlier in the inning, Riess hit a double to score Prentice and tie the game at 6-6.

Riess went 4-for-4 with three singles and a double, scored three runs and stole two bases.

Oswego East (8-14, 2-8) committed four errors and had two runners caught stealing. Wolves coach Patrick Molinari said the mistakes were just too costly.

“We didn’t make the right adjustments at the plate and made a lot of mistakes today that really came back to bite us in the butt,” said Molinari. “Our girls competed and did the best that they could. We’ve just got to learn how to hold on to a lead and finish a game.”

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

Oswego gathers in left field after their victory over Oswego East.

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Girls Softball: Caitlyn Warren’s Homer Gives Naperville North Edge Over West Aurora In Pitchers’ Duel

Naperville North warms up before the first inning of Wednesday’s DVC game.

Naperville North’s Caitlyn Warren was hoping to make a statement when she stepped into the batter’s box to lead off the eighth inning of a scoreless game against West Aurora on Wednesday.

The senior center fielder made it loud and clear, pounding a home run over the center field fence to put the Huskies up 1-0.

Pitcher Kathleen Hahne worked out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the inning as Naperville North hung on to defeat West Aurora 1-0 in a DuPage Valley Conference game.

“Our defense was working so hard but our offense was struggling, so I knew that someone had to step up,” said Warren. “Someone had to set the tone. That’s what I was hoping to do.”

After Warren gave the Huskies the lead in the eighth inning, West Aurora looked poised to tie the game or take the lead in their half of the inning.

Racheal Williams and LaRi Mitchell led off the eighth with back-to-back singles. Both runners then advanced on a passed ball and the Blackhawks had runners at second and third with no outs.

After Ally Wayzer flew out to right field for the first out of the inning, Julianna Evischi reached first base on an infield single but neither Blackhawks runner advanced.

With the bases loaded and one out, Hahne buckled down. The senior pitcher got the second out when she fielded a ground ball off the bat of Alexis Harkless and threw home to get Williams. Hahne then got Molly Jordan to fly out to center field to clinch the fourth-straight victory for Naperville North (13-5, 4-1).

“It was a lot of pressure. I had to hit my spots, I couldn’t throw any balls or wild pitches,” said Hahne, who gave up five hits and no walks in eight scoreless innings of work. “My teammates backed me up a lot and I give them all the credit.”

West Aurora (6-17, 1-4) pitcher Kaylee Hayton also had a stellar performance, giving up one run, seven hits and three walks in eight innings.

Hayton had help from her defense, especially Mitchell in center field. With two runners on base in the sixth inning, the lightning-quick Mitchell made a leaping catch at the wall on a dead-run to rob Kailee Budicin of an extra-base hit.

“When we made that catch, I kept telling the girls we can’t lose this game. With defense like that, they deserved to win,” said West Aurora coach Randy Hayslett, who took over the post last week when Sara Nagy resigned.

“It was a great game, hats off to them. I hope our girls stays positive because they played well.”

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

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Girls Softball: Mary Kate Gosselin Drives In Six As Aurora Central Rallies Against Aurora Christian

Both teams gathered in the infield for a prayer circle after Tuesday’s game.

Aurora Central Catholic won its fifth straight game on Tuesday, but it didn’t come easy.

Gabi Alfaro had three hits and scored four runs and Mary Kate Gosselin had three hits, including a home run, and drove in six runs as the Chargers overcame a 7-0 deficit to defeat Aurora Christian 13-9.

“We really, really weren’t prepared to play. I kept telling them it was a long game, and that turned out to be the case,” said Aurora Central coach Jim Hallahan. “We came back because of timely hitting by the middle of our order, and the bottom of the order got on base for them.”

Aurora Central committed four errors and allowed six unearned runs in the first two innings as they fell into an early 7-0 hole.

The Chargers chipped away at the Eagles’ lead, scoring three runs in the third inning and two in the fourth before finally taking the lead during a five-run sixth inning.

In the sixth, Gosselin drove in Alfaro with a single to center field to tie the game at 7-7. Dani Blake then gave the Chargers an 8-7 lead with an RBI single to right field.

Aurora Central went up 10-7 later in the inning after Gosselin scored on a passed ball and Mary Wileman added an RBI single.

The Eagles responded in their half of the sixth, cutting the deficit to 10-9 after an RBI ground out by Jordan Pittman and a run-scoring single by Sara Morris.

In the seventh, Gosselin capped off her stellar day at the plate with a three-run, inside-the-park homer to give the Chargers a 13-9 lead.

“I’m a power hitter sometimes but it’s usually just doubles or triples,” said Gosselin, who hit her first home run of the year on Tuesday. “To reach home was really exciting, especially to have my team there at home plate to support me.”

Aurora Central (12-10, 5-5) pitcher Sarah Ryan, who struck out seven in 5 and 2/3 innings of relief, retired the Eagles in order in the seventh to clinch the Chargers’ victory.

Alderman went 2-for-3 with two singles and two runs scored, while Blake went 2-for-4 with two singles, one run score and one RBI.

The Eagles had nine hits, all singles. Pittman, Marissa Wilger and Liz Smith each had two hits for Aurora Christian (5-15, 1-7), which lost its ninth straight game.

Coach Rich Hazlett says his team just has to improve its fundamentals.

“We’ve just got to continue to work on the basics,” said Hazlett. “Catching, throwing, hitting. If we can get those things under control, we’ll do well. We’ll hopefully win some games.”

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

Aurora Central hanging out in the first base dugout early in Tuesday’s game. 

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Girls Softball: Carragher’s RBI Triple The Difference As St. Francis Clips Aurora Central

St. Francis’ lineup posted before Monday’s game against Aurora Central.

St. Francis coach Ralph Remus came out to the pitcher’s circle to reassure his players in the midst of a two-run, game-tying rally by Aurora Central Catholic in the sixth inning of Monday’s Suburban Christian Conference game.

“I just told the girls we were still in good shape if we could hold them to three runs,” said Remus. “I knew we were going to score in the seventh. We had the top of the order up and after going through the order three times, I was pretty sure we were going to put the bat on the ball.”

Remus was right. Spartans pitcher Maggie Remus stranded the go-ahead run at third base in the sixth, and catcher Blaine Carragher hit an RBI triple in the seventh as St. Francis held on to beat host Aurora Central 4-3.

“I felt comfortable with her in that spot,” said Remus of Carragher. “She’s the most competitive kid in the world, so I knew she was going to do everything she could to drive the ball.”

Aurora Central (5-7, 2-3) struck first, taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Mary Kate Gosselin drove in Jenny Alderman with a triple to deep center field.

St. Francis (12-2, 4-1) quickly responded, scoring two runs in the second inning on an RBI double by Jenna Dama and an RBI triple by Aly Germanos.

The Spartans added an insurance run in the fourth inning when Dama picked her second RBI of the game on an infield single that drove in Ali Dittrich.

The Chargers rallied to tie the game at 3-3 with two runs in the sixth inning. Amber Konen scored on a throwing error before Allie Lundquist tied the game by stealing home on the back-end of a double steal.

The Chargers had the possible go-ahead run at third base with two outs in the inning, but Maggie Remus struck out Aurora Central shortstop Gabi Alfaro to end the threat.

Germanos reached first base on infield error to lead off the seventh inning and Carragher followed with an RBI triple to give the Spartans a 4-3 lead.

“The whole game it felt like our bats were dead, but that last inning we definitely came alive,” said Carragher. “We just wanted to take away their momentum and get ourselves back up.”

Remus made quick work of Aurora Central in the seventh inning, retiring the Chargers in order to close out the Spartans’ victory.

Despite Monday’s loss, Aurora Central coach Jim Hallahan feels good about where his team is headed.

“I’m very optimistic of where we’re going to be at the end of the year,” said Hallahan. “We’re putting the pieces of the puzzle together but I’m very excited about where we’ll be in about three weeks.”

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

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Girls Softball: Oswego Outfoxes Yorkville, Takes First At Fox Valley Tournament

Oswego catcher Jessa Garcia picked the perfect time to hit her first home run of the season.

The junior’s three-run homer in the fifth-inning broke a 4-4 tie and the Panthers held on to defeat Yorkville 7-6 to take home first place at the Fox Valley Third Annual Softball Tournament.

“That was a huge home run and it came exactly when we needed it,” said Oswego coach John Carlson. “We knew she had the power and she hit it in a time when we really needed something big. It was a huge motivator for the girls.”

Oswego took advantage of some early miscues by Yorkville and jumped out to 4-0 lead. The Foxes gave up three unearned runs as they committed four errors in the first four innings.

Yorkville evened the score with a four-run fifth inning that included RBI base hits by Corrine Rowe, Lauren Rhodes and Madeline Avery.

The Panthers quickly recaptured the lead in the bottom of the inning when Garcia’s three-run homer soared over the center field fence.

“I got a pitch down the middle and a little outside. That’s where I like it, so I just hit it,” said Garcia. “It just made me happy, because I’ve been waiting for so long to finally hit a home run.”

Rowe narrowed the Foxes’ deficit to one when she hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning.

The Foxes had runners on first and second with one out in the seventh inning, but Oswego (7-7) pitcher Jessica Clark was able to retire the next two Yorkville batters to seal the Panthers’ victory.

Clark pitched a complete game for the Panthers while also registering three hits at the plate.

Carlson said the Panthers played their best softball of the season in wins over West Aurora, Metea Valley and Yorkville in the Fox Valley Tournament.

“This team has played great these last three games. We hit better in this tournament than we have been all season,” said Carlson. “The girls are just playing together, they’re playing for each other.”

Yorkville (11-5) coach Kathi Dockstader said the Foxes were hindered by a lack of motivation.

“We just started things offensively a little late,” said Dockstader. “We were very motivated to play last night against Batavia, but we didn’t have that same intensity today. Oswego wanted it more than us.”

Yorkville and Oswego will play again in a doubleheader later this month and Dockstader is already looking forward to the rematch.

“The good thing about this loss is we get to play Oswego in a couple weeks in a regularly scheduled game,” said Dockstader. “We’ll definitely be up to the challenge.”

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

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Girls Softball: Kuefler Drives In Six As Kaneland Blows By West Aurora

Kaneland got a big boost from the top of its batting order on Monday as the Knights defeated host West Aurora 10-3.

The first three hitters in the Knights’ lineup – Delani Vest, Allyson O’Herron and Paige Kuefler – combined for eight hits, eight runs and seven runs batted in.

“The first two set the table and then the big hitters hit the ball hard,” said Kaneland coach Brian Willis. “It’s a good formula if you can use it every game.”

Kuefler, a freshman who has already settled in to the No. 3 spot in the lineup, went 4-for-4 with six RBI and three runs scored. Willis said the young third baseman is seeing the ball well at the plate.

“She’s (Kuefler) seeing the ball like it’s a beach ball and she’s hitting that ball hard,” said Willis.

The Knights got on the board early with a three-run first inning that included RBI singles from Kuefler and Lexi Roach. The speedy Roach reached base four times in the game and stole three bases.

O’Herron and Kuefler both had RBI singles in the second inning as Kaneland (13-4) extended its lead to 5-0.

West Aurora (3-12) scored their first runs in the third inning as Alexis Harkless’ two-run single cut the Knights’ lead to 5-2.

However, Kaneland quickly responded with a three-run fourth inning. The Knights took an 8-2 lead thanks to a two-run double by Kuefler and a RBI groundout from McKinzie Mangers.

Kuefler capped off her strong performance with a two-run single in the fifth inning that gave the Knights a 10-2 lead.

Even though she’s only a freshman, Kuefler said her teammates have made it easy for her to play at the varsity level.

“I’ve felt really good all year. I came on to a team that’s welcomed me,” said Kuefler. “My teammates make me feel comfortable and I got used to varsity pretty fast.”

Harkless added a RBI double to deep left field in the fifth inning to cut the score to 10-3. The catcher led West Aurora on offense, reaching base three times and driving in all three Blackhawk runs.

West Aurora committed four errors as the team lost its third straight game. Blackhawks coach Sara Nagy said her team has fallen back into some bad habits after a stretch of three wins in four games.

“We were just back on our heels today and hanging our heads. We’ve been moving forward, and this was kind of a step back for us,” said Nagy. “We’ve got two days of practice coming up and that will help us refocus and get back on a good note.”

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

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Girls Softball: Cara Smoczynski Strikes Out 15, Rosary Bats Come Alive As Royals Defeats Aurora Central

Not much went right for Rosary early in its season as the Royals lost six of their first seven games.

But everything seemed to go right on Monday as Rosary defeated crosstown rival Aurora Central Catholic 9-1.

Pitcher Cara Smoczynski struck out a career-high 15 batters over seven shutout innings and the Royals offense combined for 15 hits, five of them for extra bases.

Smoczynski was dominant from the get-go, striking out eight of the first nine Charger batters. The right-handed junior gave up just four hits and one run in seven innings of work.

“I was feeling great. The beginning of that game was awesome, I came in with confidence,” said Smoczynski. “I was preparing the whole weekend, I was getting myself excited. I came out and performed.”

Rosary (2-6, 1-1) coach John Kazmierczak said it was one of the best-pitched games he’s seen from a Royals pitcher in years.

“That was the best performance by a Rosary pitcher in about three years and the best she’s pitched in two years on the team,” said Kazmierczak. “That’s what she’s capable of, she was dominant.”

Rosary took an early 1-0 lead after Maddie Merritt scored on Maddie Hemmerich’s sacrifice fly in the first inning.

The Royals extended their lead to 6-0 with a five-run third inning that featured RBI triples by Kates Groom and Samantha Phelps, and RBI singles from Hemmerich and Smoczynski.

Lauren Murray went 3-for-4, including a double and a triple, and drove in the Royals’ final three runs. The sophomore’s seventh inning double brought home Lexi Lovetere to give the Royals a 9-1 lead.

Kazmierczak said his team was due for a strong offensive showing.

“We’ve been hitting the ball like this all season, but we’ve been hitting it right at people,” said Kazmierczak. “They haven’t been falling, but today they fell.”

Mary Wileman scored the Chargers’ only run in the sixth inning on a double by Allie Lundquist.

Aurora Central (5-3, 0-1) coach Jim Hallahan said the Royals’ bats were just too much.

“They’re a well-hitting team,” said Hallahan. “Nobody has hit her [Chargers pitcher Sarah Ryan] around like that in the last three years I’ve coached her. So, kudos to them, they swung the bat well.”

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

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Girls Softball: Sophomore Trio Leads Naperville Central To Victory Over Waubonsie Valley

Naperville Central got a boost from a trio of sophomores Thursday afternoon as the Redhawks defeated Waubonsie Valley 4-2 in Aurora.

Pitcher Keegan Hayes picked up the win after giving up two runs and three hits over seven innings. Center fielder Maddi Doane had three hits, including a triple, and two stolen bases while catcher Kaitlyn Skarecky hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning.

“You feel pretty good when you have a sophomore pitch a game like that, have a sophomore hit a two run homer and have a sophomore hit a triple and steal two bases,” said Naperville Central Head Coach Andy Nussbaum.

Hayes was impressive in her first career start. The sophomore retired 19 of the first 20 batters she faced before giving up a single and two-run homer in the seventh inning. In total, Hayes gave up two runs and three hits while striking out six and walking none.

Nussbaum said Hayes got off to one of the best starts he’s seen in his long tenure of coaching.

“To retire 19 out of 20 to start the game, we’re talking about four or five performances in 29 years we’ve had that have been like that. That’s pretty good,” said Nussbaum.

Hayes credited her teammates for giving her the confidence she needed to pitch well.

“It’s easy to come out confident and pitch well when you have hitters, and we had a great lineup today,” said Hayes. “Everyone was on their A-game. That helped a lot.”

The Redhawks (2-0) got on the board in the second inning after Dana Dolehide’s single brought home Laura Dierking. Naperville Central went up 2-0 later in the inning when an infield error allowed Dolehide to score.

After Doane hit a triple with one out in the fifth inning, Skarecky launched a two-run homer to left field that put the Redhawks up 4-0.

The Warriors (0-1) would get their only runs of the game on a two-run homer by Erin Hohman with one out in the seventh inning.

Waubonsie Valley head coach Alyson Kelley was impressed with the Warriors’ defense, but noted that the team must start focusing more on hitting.

“I was really, really impressed with our defense. We have done so much defensive work in practice that we’ve kind of left hitting off to the side a little bit, and it showed up today,” said Kelley. “We’re going to start focusing more on hitting as well, so we come full circle and we have everything going for our next game.”

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

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