WILLOW SPRINGS – Lily Hanafin ended the game the same way she began it – with a strikeout.
In between, the Lyons senior right-hander was just as dominant.
Striking out a season-high 17 batters, the George Washington recruit led the Lions to a 3-2 victory over Willowbrook in the Class 4A Lyons Regional championship game May 28.
Hanafin yielded just three hits while walking none. The first 11 outs she recorded were all via strikeout.
“It was really great to have everything working,” said Hanafin, who throws a variety of pitches with movement downward including a screwball, a drop-ball, a curveball and a change-up. “All of my pitches were moving and hitting their spots.
“You never know if it’s going to be your day, if your pitches will be working that day. It’s great that it all happened today.”
In notching its 20th win of the season, Lyons (20-3) also won its first regional title since 2017.
“It is special,” Hanafin said. “We are all really excited. We’ve had a great year and we have a strong team. We hadn’t won one [a regional title] in our four years so to win it as a senior is really special, especially being our last year of high school.”
Trailing 1-0 after the top of the first, the Lions quickly tied the score on a run-scoring single by Peyton O’Flaherty. The Lions took the lead for good in the second on a run-scoring groundout by Kaitlyn Filkins.
Ava Paganis added a two-out RBI double in the fifth, her second double of the game. That drove in Tess Meyer, who also had doubled.
The offense for the Lions has been a force all spring, with the team scoring seven or more runs in 15 of their 20 wins, including double-digits in 11.
“We came ready to play and ready to win,” said Paganis, who will play at Bryant University. “We were super energetic from the start and we played our best game. Our team chemistry is amazing. We just all want to win.
“Lily was awesome. That’s one of the best games she’s thrown. At the beginning of the season, we were putting up a lot of runs. But as the games get harder and harder, it’s about getting key hits and sacrifice flies and sacrifice bunts and moving runners, doing whatever you need to do to get runs across.”
Meyer finished with two hits in addition to catching Hanafin’s pitches.
“Starting out, she was drilling all her spots,” Lyons coach Nicole Marinec said of Hanafin. “Her and Tess, our catcher, feed off each other. They pick out weaknesses in the hitters and they attack them. Lily was really on today.
“And as you get deeper and deeper in the playoffs, the pitching is more and more phenomenal. It was great to see us get clutch hits. It was great to see a collective team win.”
Up next was the third meeting between Lyons and Downers Grove North at the Marist Sectional on Wednesday. The two West Suburban Silver foes shared the conference title, with each picking up a win over the other. The Lions won 5-3 on April 20. Downers Grove North won 7-1 on May 10.
“It will be exciting,” Paganis said. “It should be a great game. We just want to come out and play a good game. Keep that same vision we had today, just go one inning at a time. But we are all super excited.”
The Warriors (19-8) saw their 11-game winning streak come to an end. Caitlyn Kulczyski, who will continue her career at Stetson, nearly matched Hanafin pitch for pitch. The senior struck out nine and allowed six hits and one earned run.
For Willowbrook, Grace Hayes had an RBI single in the first inning and Hannah Kenny scored on a wild pitch in the seventh after an infield single.
“I’m not disappointed in our effort,” said Willowbrook coach Rachel Karos, whose team gave up a combined eight runs during their win streak. “It was obviously a bad time to go cold [on offense], though coming in we knew it was going to be a pitching battle. But I think sometimes we don’t give ourselves the benefit of the doubt in the batter’s box. When you step in there, you deserve to be in there and the mindset has to be I’m not going to strikeout.
“But it wasn’t for a lack of effort. What I just want for them is to believe that they deserve to be here and deserve to have a chance to win here because I think every year a lot of people doubt us.”