MAPLE PARK – Kaneland softball coach Mike Kuefler said his team has struggled with off-speed pitches all season.
But on Tuesday in a Class 3A Kaneland Regional semifinal, the Knights smashed the slow stuff from Woodstock and rolled to a 23-2, four-inning win.
“Normally we struggle with off-speed pitching, and today I was encouraged,” Kuefler said. “I told them just now, I was encouraged we took care of some off-speed pitching today. That was the biggest thing we got out of today’s game. ... We worked on some off-speed stuff yesterday, and it was good to see them put it to use.”
The Knights (13-11) had lost seven straight entering the game. The Blue Streaks (4-16) loaded the bases off Grace Algrim in the first but couldn’t score, then Kaneland scored five in the bottom of the first, followed by 11 in the second, and the rout was on.
Woodstock got its runs in the third off reliever Kyra Johnson. Grace Karner doubled home Abby Weber, then scored on a delayed steal of home.
Kaneland added seven more in the third to reach the 15-run rule.
“I’d say our adjustment is to just sit back a little bit more and have more patience,” said Jenna Harper, who had one of the team’s three triples in a 3-for-4, three-run, three-RBI performance. “Wait for it to come into your zone, and just send that ball. I think we all just took that to heart and tried to time it up, see it in, and see our pitch that came across the plate.”
All 11 Knights that had a plate appearance scored in the game, with leadoff hitter Olivia Stoker leading the way with four runs in a 2-for-3 performance with a triple and an RBI.
Emily Olp also had a rocket triple like Olp and Harper in a 2-for-3, two-run, two-RBI game.
“Our at-bats were stellar,” Harper said. “We were very ready to play this game. We took advantage of any pitch that came across the plate, and our baserunning just showed how much we wanted this game.”
Kuefler said he felt the team is in a rhythm now after the win, something that’s been lacking the past couple of weeks. And Algrim also pitched only two innings, striking out six, saving her for Saturday’s championship game against either Crystal Lake Central or Crystal Lake South.
“We’re definitely better than what we showed in the last two weeks,” Kuefler said. “Every year we have a midseason letdown, and it came a little later this year. It was tough just because of weather and everything that happened this spring to get into a rhythm.”
Kaneland had 10 hits in the win, while the Blue Streaks committed eight errors that led to 14 unearned runs.
With a young and inexperienced team, Woodstock coach Shandon Nixon said it was a tough season but a great learning experience, and he expects a vastly improved team next year.
“We had a lot of girls who had not played travel, just filling out a roster,” Nixon said. “They were just filling out a roster. They were willing to give us their best effort, and I appreciate it that where we started the year and where we ended the year we got better.”
He said the defense didn’t have its best sowing Tuesday.
“You might not have seen it this game, but we’ve shown a lot of improvement the last few weeks,” Nixon said. “That’s what makes today a little bit harder. We think we were better than what we showed. There were a lot of plays out there we know we can make, and we left them on the field.”