DOWNERS GROVE – Even after losing nine of its first twelve games this spring, York wasn’t willing to write off the 2023 season just yet.
And on Friday, that continued belief in each other paid off in a big way.
Behind a mammoth three-run homer by Madison Peck, the Dukes continued their late-season surge with a 5-3 victory over the host Trojans to capture the Downers Grove North Class 4A Regional title.
Now winners of 11 of their last 14 contests, York (17-14) advances to the Marist Sectional to take on either Riverside-Brookfield or Lyons on Wednesday.
“We just never gave up on our season,” said Peck. “Our motto this season has been, ‘Play tough, play together.’ We really came together at the end of the season, just helping each other out, picking each other up.
“We have nine seniors, but I know this (the regional title) means just as much if not more to our younger players. We are all so excited to be here.”
Peck’s no-doubter came with two strikes and two outs in the top of the fourth with the Dukes down 3-2. Her eighth home run of the season followed the senior swinging underneath a riseball from Ashlynn Durkin.
“She has a nice backwards riseball,” Peck said. “I just told myself, stay level, stay cool. You never expect to hit a home run, I was just hoping for a base hit. But when you feel the pop like that one, you just know. And then just the adrenaline I felt running around the bases, it was so cool.”
Sophomore pitcher Avery Kanouse did the rest, scattering five hits while yielding no runs in her 5 2/3 innings of relief. The Dukes’ usual starter fanned five.
“I just knew I had to hold them down,” said Kanouse, who entered in the bottom of the second inning. “I couldn’t let them score any more. I just had to keep throwing strikes, because I knew my defense was behind me.
“This feels awesome, it’s unreal.”
The visitors, who also defeated the Trojans 6-5 in 14 innings back on May 3 in their second regular-season meeting, had taken a 2-0 lead in the opening frame. Lilly Burda and Maddie Tran both scored on wild pitches. Burda, a freshman, finished with three hits, while Tran had two. Mariann Blass also cranked out a double.
York last won a regional in 2021, knocking off DGN 6-0 that day.
“To win a regional championship is very special,” said first-year head coach Lisa Fraticola, who spent the previous three seasons as a varsity assistant. “And then to do it with these girls, a lot of whom have been in the program with me for four years, it’s expecially exciting to win it with them. It’s a huge win for the program.
“The younger players with the older ones has been a great mix, and they’ve really bonded. They’ve continued to mesh and are playing for one another. That is what has gotten us through.”
Downers Grove North (20-9-1), which finished a game behind Oak Park for the top spot in the West Suburban Silver Conference, scored a single run in the first on an RBI hit by Durkin. The home team took the lead in the second on singles by Maya Rodriguez and Ella Bonk, each of which plated a run.
Durkin struck out seven in her five innings of relief, with starter Ava Gusel striking out five in two innings.
“Our bats really didn’t come out to play today,” said Downers Grove North coach Eric Landschoot, whose teams had won five in a row coming in, allowing just one run total in those games. “But hats off to York, they played small ball when they needed to, they moved runners when they needed to, and they got hits when they needed to.
“They are a well-coached team, and they have a couple of pitchers who do what they need to do.”