NEWARK – Until Friday, the Newark softball team had been an offensive juggernaut this season registering a whopping 295 runs, 285 hits, and 36 home runs throughout 31 games with 27 wins.
However, the No. 7 ranked team in the final Illinois Softball Coaches Association 1A poll found themselves in uncharted territory facing Marquette junior standout lefty Kaylee Killelea Friday afternoon during the Class 1A Newark Regional championship game.
The Norsemen could dent Killelea’s tremendous hurling armor for only one hit on the day but still came away with a scintillating 2-1 victory courtesy of two unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to raise their school win record to an impressive 28-3-1.
The triumph also provided Newark softball with its sixth consecutive regional title and 12th throughout the program’s history.
“We haven’t played a lot of close games like this during the season and we’ve been great front runners with our offense hitting well and scoring a bunch of runs,” Newark coach Tim Schofield said. “I knew Kaylee was gonna be tough, she always gets up for big games and was incredibly tough to hit today but we found a way to scratch across a couple of runs against her in the sixth and made it happen in order to get the win. We put some pressure on their defense in that inning and we came away with another regional championship against a very good ball club after they beat us (5-3) in the sectional championship last year.”
Marquette (16-9) saw Killelea toss six innings in the circle allowing just four walks while fanning eight only to receive the hard luck loss.
“She’s a great pitcher and deserved a better fate today,” Marquette coach Brad Oakes said. “We had to do everything right to beat an amazing team like Newark. We almost did that with Kaylee pitching so well but we had one bad inning and Newark took advantage of that so credit to them.”
The Norsemen escaped a huge scare in the top of the first inning where the Cru loaded the bases with nobody out before Newark starting junior pitcher Kaitlyn Schofield (4.2 IP, 1 R, 3 H, 3 K) got out of the monster jam with two consecutive strikeouts and a fly ball to the outfield.
The two hurlers would battle neck-and-neck until the top of the fifth when Marquette drew first blood.
With one out Taylor Cuchra singled to left and was replaced on the base paths by Nora Rinearson. After a sacrifice bunt by Lindsey Kaufmann that moved Rinearson to third with two out, hot hitting freshman Avery Durdan (3-for-4) delivered a run scoring single to left that put Marquette ahead 1-0 after Tim Schofield decided to lift his daughter in the circle in lieu of sophomore reliever Kodi Rizzo.
But Newark was undaunted, even though Kaitlyn Schofield had provided Newark’s only hit against Killelea on a bunt single in the third.
In the bottom half of the sixth, Kaitlyn Schofield reached on a lead-off error, and went to second base on a walk to Taylor Kruser. Schofield eventually came around to score after sophomore Ryan Williams placed down a bunt which was misfielded by the Marquette defense and allowed Schofield to score on the second error of the inning to tie the score 1-1. Kruser also went to third on the costly mistake and then scored after sophomore Danica Peshia lined a sacrifice fly to center that gave the Norsemen a 2-1 lead that would prove to be the game winning at bat.
“I knew I had to go up there and deliver because my first two times against her (Killelea) weren’t very good,” Peshia said. “I hit it well and was able to get the run home and we had the lead.”
What was left was for Rizzo (9-2) to retire Marquette in the top of the seventh to earn the championship win in relief even though the Crusaders were able to get the tying runner on second with only one out.
“Kaitlyn (Schofield) did an amazing job starting for us and when I gave up the hit that put them ahead, I just knew we could come back and win this game,” Rizzo said. “Once we got the lead in the sixth inning all I wanted to do was close it out. It was such a great feeling for me and for all of us.”
Newark now moves on to the Class 1A Dwight sectional semifinals on Wednesday May 25 versus Walter Christian at 4:30 p.m.