Softball: Kairi Lantz’s home run gets Sycamore bats going in regional championship victory

Williams also homers for Spartans, who win 3rd regional title in past 4 postseasons

Sycamore head coach Jill Carpenter high-fives Kairi Lantz as she heads to home plate after homering during their Class 3A regional championship game against Freeport on Friday, May 26, 2023, at Sycamore High School.

SYCAMORE – For three-plus innings, Friday’s Class 3A Sycamore Regional championship was shaping up to be a pitchers’ duel between the Spartans and Freeport.

Then Kairi Lantz blasted a two-run home run to left, kicking off an eight-run fourth and breaking open a tie game in Sycamore’s 13-3, six-inning win.

“Oh my God. It is absolutely amazing. After Addison got that hit, it was just pure joy. Pure joy.”

—  Kairi Lantz, Sycamore catcher

“I think our energy was absolutely amazing after that,” Lantz said. “We were all up. No one was sitting. Everyone was cheering. I think that energy put us up.”

Kaitlyn Williams started the fourth inning of a 1-1 game with a double to right field. Lantz followed with her blast just over the fence in left-center, putting Sycamore (27-10) ahead for the first time.

It was only the fourth hit of the game for Sycamore, but the bats started heating up with back-to-back singles by Alyssa Wilkerson and Faith Heil. Then a couple of errors by Freeport (16-9) led to three more runs.

Williams capped the scoring in the inning with a three-run blast well beyond the fence in left, putting the Spartans up 9-1.

“I really felt like everybody exhaled after that,” Sycamore coach Jill Carpenter said. “Everybody relaxed, and we just kept the bats going. We have the fun, big inning, and you can afford to have a couple of miscues on defense.

“When you can score this many runs, you don’t have to be perfect on the mound or perfect in the field. The bats definitely carried us.”

Freeport scored in the top of the first when Kailen Pro walked, advanced on a fielder’s choice and scored on a two-out single by Quinn Krezminski. But that’s the only trouble Sycamore starter Wilkerson ran into until walking the first two batters in the fifth.

That’s when Carpenter went to reliever Addison Dierschow. She walked one more batter, and two Sycamore errors led to two unearned runs scoring, cutting the lead to 9-3.

Carpenter said she liked the way the Spartans responded in the bottom of the first, tying the score right away when leadoff hitter Addie McLaughlin tripled and scored on a passed ball.

“It was a tight game in the beginning, and I think we played a little tight,” Carpenter said. “I think it really helped us to answer in the bottom of the first and tie the game right away, clean the slate a little bit.”

The Spartans added three in the bottom of the fifth for a 12-3 lead, aided by a two-run double from McLaughlin. Dierschow retired the Pretzels in order in the top of the sixth, then hit a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the sixth to score Thea Boubin, a pinch runner for Williams, to end the game.

“Oh my God. It is absolutely amazing,” Lantz said. “After Addison got that hit, it was just pure joy. Pure joy.”

The Spartans had 13 hits in the game, including two each by McLaughlin, Williams, Wilkerson, Dierschow and Heil. Williams scored three times and drove in three runs.

The Spartans advance to the Belvidere North Sectional to face either Harvard or Kaneland at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. It’s the third regional crown in the past four postseasons for the Spartans, who won the state title in 2019.

“I am pumped,” Lantz said. “I am so excited to play them. Just the energy level coming off this win is so exciting. I think everybody on the team is so excited.”

The Spartans have faced both potential opponents this year. They split the series against Interstate 8 rival Kaneland and topped the Hornets. But in the game against Harvard, the Spartans did not face ace Tallula Eichholz.

The Knights and Hornets meet at 10 a.m. Saturday for the Burlington Central Regional crown.

“Kaneland is Kaneland, clearly a rival,” Carpenter said. “We played them twice already. We split. Harvard, we haven’t seen their No. 1 kid. We saw their second pitcher. It’s anybody’s game tomorrow, it will probably be close. But all we can do is worry about us.

“We will be ready to go against whoever wants to play us Wednesday.”

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