LEMONT - In big games when each team has an extremely talented pitcher, it sometimes comes down which side can come up with a timely hit when it’s needed.
Neither Ottawa (22-5) nor Lemont (25-4) — the top-seeded teams in their respective sub-sectionals — could come up with that kind of swing in the bases-loaded chances each had during Thursday’s Class 3A sectional championship game.
However, the Indians were able to get a pair of inning-starting triples in the first and fifth frames from leadoff hitter Kaylee Purgatorio followed by run-scoring groundouts to capture a third consecutive sectional title with a 2-0 win over the Pirates at the LHS Sports Complex.
Lemont now advances to Monday’s 6 p.m. Ottawa Supersectional, where it will face Washington, a 3-1 winner over Bloomington.
“Ottawa is a very good team, and (senior Abby Bukantis) threw a solid game,” said Lemont coach Chris Traina. ”We’d been hitting the ball really well, but today she kept us off-balance for the most part. Our leadoff hitter, Kaylee Purgatorio, came into today very focused, and it showed with her two triples. She also made a great read on going home on the grounder to second in the fifth to get us the second run.”
Lemont sophomore winning pitcher Sage Mardjetko allowed just a pair of hits — a bunt single by Kendall Eslinger to start the game and a single in the second off the bat of Lauren Carlson — with one walk and 12 strikeouts.
“Sage wants the ball, and she is a competitor,” said Traina. “She struggles with trusting her changeup, but it was nice to see her have success with that pitch today and just give the Ottawa hitters something else to think about the third time through the lineup.”
Lemont’s first tally came in the opening inning, as Purgatorio lined a 3-2 pitch down the right-field line for a triple and scored when No. 2 hitter Lily Schuit grounded out to second. The run was the first allowed by the Pirates in the last 19 innings.
Ottawa put together its best scoring chance in the second when Cassie Turk reached on a one-out error, followed by Carlson’s base hit. A walk to McKenzie Oslanzi loaded the bases, but Mardjetko was able to fan the next two hitters ... as well as the next 15 batters in order.
“Anytime you can get runners in scoring position against a good pitcher like (Mardjetko) and then don’t score, it’s a huge missed opportunity because you are probably not going to get a lot of those chances,” said Ottawa coach Adam Lewis. “They were able to get a couple leadoff runners to third and then push runs across.”
The hosts added on in the fifth when Purgatorio hit a sinking line drive to left that Carlson made a tremendous dive for. However, the ball got by and rolled all the way to the fence.
After an out, Frankie Rita hit a groundball to second, and although Purgatorio was made to stop her initial progress toward home by Ryleigh Stehl’s look-back before throwing to first, the Indians speedster slid home just ahead of a throw.
The final five innings, Mardjetko started mixing in her offspeed pitch along with the rest of her arsenal, with great results.
“I like to hold off on throwing my changeup until I can see if a team can hit, and if they are hitting me I’ll go to it more. That pitch has been a struggle for me, so when I do start going to it I throw it early in counts. When I feel it’s good and solid, I’ll throw it whenever I need to,” said Mardjetko.
“The nerves went back and forth for me today. When Ottawa loaded the bases in the second inning, I was thinking to myself, ‘I really have to get out of this.’ I knew my teammates would have my back in that situation, but I wanted to make sure I stayed focused and hit my spots. I really felt my location was pretty good all game.”
Bukantis, who pitched out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth, finished giving up just four hits with one walk and six strikeouts.
“The first few pitches of the game, Abby is just trying to get into a groove, and they get hard contact to right. Then in the fifth, I called for back-to-back changeups and the girl hits another one hard to left, but that one’s on me,” said Lewis. “Other than the two triples, she didn’t really give up any solid contact.
“She just did what she does, and she is a very special kid. She never gets down, never pouts, never gets rattled, and she really showed the kind of great pitcher she can be today and really all season.”