NEWARK – The Marquette Academy softball team knows its biggest game of the season is on Friday’s horizon.
But before that, the Crusaders had to take care of business on Thursday.
They did just that in grand fashion.
Marquette, the No. 4 subsectional seed, easily dispatched No. 6 Gardner-South Wilmington 10-0 in five innings during a semifinal contest as part of the Class 1A Newark Regional.
The Crusaders (16-8) will now take on the No. 1-seeded Newark Norsemen Friday at 4:30 p.m. for the right to hoist a regional championship plaque. Newark (27-3-1) is the seventh ranked team in the final Illinois Softball Coaches Association Class 1A poll.
“Even though we got a big win today, I don’t think we played up to our potential and hopefully we’ll be better tomorrow because we’ll need to be,” MHS coach Brad Oakes said. “Still, we got it done and I was proud of the girls for getting us to the regional championship game.”
The Cru relied on the junior left-handed pitching combo of starter Kaylee Killelea and reliever Lindsey Kaufmann.
Killelea tossed three innings striking out all but two batters she faced while allowing only one walk.
Kaufmann finished up the final two frames yielding just one hit along with a punch out while Killelea (12-5) earned the victory in the circle.
“I thought we came out a little flat but we did what we needed to do in the end,” Killelea said. “Eventually we got focused and got the matchup we wanted with Newark tomorrow.”
Marquette touched G-SW starting and losing pitcher Jayden Buchanan in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, Killelea (two hits) bolted a single into centerfield and went to second on an error after Eva McCallum’s at-bat. Makayla Backos (three hits) then singled to left to load the bases.
There, freshman Avery Durdan (two hits) cleared the paths with a three-run double to the fence in right center that gave the Cru a 3-0 lead after one inning.
“I got a good swing on the first pitch and it was great to see all those runs come in because we needed them to get our offense going,” Durdan said. “It kind of got me and all of us riled up and we just kept going from there.”
With Killelea sailing along in the circle, which included striking out the side in both the second and third frames, Marquette added two more runs in the third.
Killelea led off and tripled to the fence in right center. One out later, Backos plated courtesy runner Lilliana Bernabei with a sacrifice fly to center to make the score 4-0.
Durdan followed with a two-out triple to right and eventually tallied on a nifty two-strike, safety bunt by sophomore Emma Rinearson (two hits) that gave the Cru a 5-0 lead after three stanzas.
Kaufmann then came on in relief of Killelea in the fourth and held the Panthers harmless the rest of the way besides the lone G-SW hit from Buchanan with one out in the fifth.
“That was absolutely the best pitching we’ve seen all year with their two left-handed pitchers who were amazing today,” G-SW coach Cassi Carlson said. “You don’t see lefty pitchers like that at all in a season let alone two of them on the same team. But I was proud of the way we hung in there against a very good ballclub. Tomorrow night with Marquette against Newark should be an amazing regional championship contest.”
The Cru closed the game out with five runs in the bottom of the fifth courtesy of a two-run, pinch-hit double down the line in left from Taylor Cuchra, a two-run double from McCallum and a one-out, walk-off single from Backos that sent Marquette into the highly anticipated matchup with Newark on Friday.
“It’s gonna be a fun day tomorrow that’s for sure,” Oakes said. “I know I’m looking forward to it and so are the girls. We can’t wait.”