RIVER GROVE — During the past two softball seasons, Marquette Academy and Newark have produced a pair of epic championship matchups with each school winning once.
Add another thrilling title tilt to the list with the Crusaders now owning the advantage over the Norsemen.
Behind the pitching of senior Kaylee Killelea and the hitting of sophomore Taylor Cuchra, Marquette held off a pair of valiant Newark rallies in order to forge out a spine-tingling 8-6 victory Saturday afternoon at the Class 1A Walther Christian Sectional championship contest that took place on the grounds of Triton College in River Grove.
Coincidentally, it was the identical final score by which the Norsemen defeated the Crusaders back on March 20 in Ottawa.
“It’s kind of weird that it’s the same score the other way around this time with more on the line,” Killelea said. “I’ll take this one for sure in another great game against them.”
No. 5 seeded Marquette (25-6) topped No. 2 Newark (30-2) for its third sectional championship in school history and second sectional title win versus the Norsemen during the past three seasons, with Newark knocking out the Crusaders in last year’s 1A Regional title game before going to state and collecting a fourth-place trophy.
“Give credit to them. They played a good game,” Newark coach Tim Schofield said. “I’m proud of our girls. We fought all the way to the end, but we just came up a little short. Only one team gets to win the last game. Unfortunately, it’s not us.”
Marquette will now advance to Monday’s 11 a.m. supersectional at Inspiration Field on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University against LeRoy (31-6), a 2-1 victor over Heyworth also on Saturday as the Crusaders vanquished one of their closest rivals after a tremendous three-year series between Class 1A softball heavyweights.
“It was another heck of a game with Newark as we’ve seen over the past few years and our girls played so well with Kaylee pitching so well, Taylor hitting so well and it was just a fun game to come out on top against a great team,” Marquette coach Brad Oakes said. “We’re kind of clicking right now.”
The Crusaders touched Newark starting pitcher Kaitlyn Schofield (3 IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 4 H, 5 K, 1 BB) – who took the loss – with two runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Lindsey Kaufmann led off with a single and two outs later Cuchra blasted her 11th home run of the season deep into left field that gave Marquette a 2-0 lead after one inning of play.
“I didn’t think I’d swing at the first pitch, but when I saw it coming I knew I had to take a shot,” Cuchra said. “When it came off the bat I knew it was gone and we got off to a great start.”
The Crusaders would add two more in the bottom of the third when Kaufmann led off with a walk and Killelea (two hits) reached on a single.
Cuchra then plated Kaufmann with a base hit down the line in left before Killelea eventually tallied after a Newark error that put Marquette ahead 4-0 entering the fourth frame.
But Newark wasn’t done at all opening the top of the fifth with its’ first rally.
With one out, Kodi Rizzo walked and with two gone Dani Peshia reached on a hard-charging infield single. From there sweet-swinging lefty Ryan Williams absolutely incinerated a prestigious three-run bomb about 250 feet to right field just short of the scoreboard and well beyond the fence to pull the Norsemen to within a run at 4-3.
But Marquette took all of those runs back plus in the bottom of the fifth against Rizzo (3 IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 6 H, 2 K, 2 BB) who relieved Kaitlyn Schofield.
Eva McCallum (two hits) would add an RBI single, Emma Rinearson a run-scoring sacrifice bunt while sophomore Kealy Rick (two hits) also stroked a key two-run single in the frame to increase Marquette’s lead to 8-3 after five.
However, the Norsemen would rally for the second time in the top of the sixth when Killelea was relieved by Cuchra in the circle. With two outs, Dorothy Wood and Taylor Kruser both singled. There, Rizzo belted a Cuchra offering deep over the fans in left for a three-run blast that cut Newark’s deficit to 8-6.
But Oakes brought back Killelea in lieu of Cuchra in the circle and the senior lefty closed the game in style with the last out of the sixth and two more strikeouts that closed out a perfect seventh which gave the Crusaders bragging rights at least for one more year over their most fiercest of rivals.
“This was a big-time win against a great team like Newark,” Cuchra said. “Now we’ve got to prove we’re worthy of getting this far in the supersectionals on Monday. There’s no doubt in my mind we can get to state after a win like this.”