Indians feel Wildcats' roar

MINOOKA — Home-field advantage and the Normal Community West Wildcats both proved unfriendly to the Minooka Indians Thursday as they went one-and-done in the IHSA Class 4A softball postseason.

Moving to 31-3 on the season, the Wildcats dealt a 3-0 semifinal loss to the hosts of the 4A Minooka Regional. The defeat left the Indians on the doorstep of the 20-win plateau, as they finish 2009 with a 19-13 overall record.

For the game, the Indians managed just four hits against West starting pitcher Jenn Murray. Three of them came from sophomore catcher Kayla Ruettiger, who bats seventh in the lineup for the Indians. Only No. 8 hitter Kassie Marsala's single prevented the rest of the Indians from being blanked completely by Murray.

"She has a good screwball," said Ruettiger of Murray. "She was hittable. She has good speed. I thought we hit the ball pretty good. When we needed big hits, we didn't get them."

Through the first three innings of the game, Minooka's lone senior, Kelly Chesnut, outdid Murray. She maintained a no-hitter for that amount of time. One Wildcat reached base in each of the innings, as Lauren Harding walked leading off the bottom of the first inning and Murray and Alex Pflieger reached on errors in the second and the third. Chesnut navigated out of each inning without allowing a run.

Erin Huddleston led off the bottom of the fourth for West, which was technically the home team, with a full-count double off the wall in left-center field. Ali Cleinmark then hit a ball just over the outstretched arm of Minooka third baseman Kim Ramsak. It was a single, though Cleinmark went to second base as the throw went towards home plate to keep Huddleston at third base.

Minooka coach Amy Saelens replaced Chesnut with junior righty Kristi Lenz, who got one step closer to escaping the jam with an immediate strikeout. On an 0-2 pitch, the next West hitter, Kylie Harp blooped an RBI single down the left-field line. Lenz came back with another strikeout before a two-out error allowed Cleinmark to score the second Wildcats run.

"Our game plan was to come in looking for our pitch, wait for our pitch and then put it in play," said West coach April Schermann. "In the beginning of the game, we were swinging at their pitch. Minooka's pitcher did a great job of getting us to do that. In the fourth, we looked more for our pitch and started putting pressure on the defense with the way we hit the ball."

Pflieger led off the West fifth inning with a single into center field. Lenz countered with two straight pop outs. A ground-ball single off the bat of Cleinmark kept the inning alive for Murray, who hit a single to right. Marsala fired it back in, and it appeared to beat courtesy runner Lena Swearingen to the plate. Swearingen helped jar it from Ruettiger's mitt and scored the third and final West run.

"They have a great pitcher, and defensively they made some fantastic catches in the outfield," said Saelens. "I'd also say they have a good-hitting team, but I wouldn't go so far as to say their hitting won them the game. They had some bloop hits fall in for them and things like that."

In the top of the second inning, the Indians staged a two-out rally. Chesnut sparked with with a walk. Ruettiger followed with a single that nicked the top of Huddleston's glove at third base. Marsala followed with an infield single that she just beat out at first base. Murray earned a strikeout on a high fastball to leave the bases filled with Indians.

Ruettiger later led off the fifth inning with a double on a 3-1 pitch she hit over the head of Cleinmark in center field. Marsala sacrificed courtesy runner Sammy Viara to third base with one out, but she got no further. Ruettiger kept the Indians alive with a two-out infield single in the seventh inning, but Murray got a foul out to finish them off.

Shortstop Aly Zembruski of Minooka hit a ball nearly to the center-field wall with one out in the fourth inning, but Cleinmark turned it into an out with a running, over-the-shoulder catch. Maggie Cain led off the sixth with a deep fly ball down the left-field line, but Kylie Harp caught it on the run. West's only error came on a dropped pop foul during an at-bat that resulted in an out anyway.

"Three things win you a softball game — solid defense, great pitching and timely hitting," said Schermann. "Defense is one of those key components, and we had it today."

Chesnut took the loss despite being charged with only one earned run and two hits in her three-plus innings of work. Lenz compiled two strikeouts and gave up an earned run in two innings. Paylton Laczynski came on to pitch a perfect sixth inning in which he fanned two batters.

"I thought they all hit their spots and did an awesome job pitching," said Ruettiger. "The umpire had a smallish strike zone, so that was important."

Chesnut completed the season with a 5-5 record.

"Kelly Chesnut is our only senior," said Saelens. "She's a great pitcher and will be missed."

The Wildcats qualified for Saturday's 10 a.m. regional championship game with the victory. They will face top-seeded Normal Community, which was a 10-0 winner over Bradley-Bourbonnais on Wednesday in the other regional semifinal. Normal Community was the only team to defeat Murray during the regular season.