ALGONQUIN – Huntley’s Reese Hunkins has saved some of her most memorable performances for the postseason. The Red Raiders’ junior shortstop had another day to remember Tuesday.
Hunkins hit a solo home run to center field in the second inning and nailed a a three-run shot in the fifth, finishing the day with five RBIs and leading No. 3-seeded Huntley to an 11-0 win in six innings over No. 1-seeded Jacobs in the teams’ Class 4A sectional semifinal.
Huntley (32-6), owner of a 29-1 record over its past 30 games, will host top-seeded Harlem in the sectional final at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
Huntley won its first sectional title two years ago on its way to the state title, the first in school history. There was no season last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hunkins, an Illinois commit, came through with many big hits during the state title run as a freshman, including a walk-off hit against McHenry to help secure Huntley’s first sectional title.
Class 4A sectional semifinal: Reese Hunkins with her second homer today, this one a 3-run shot. Huntley 7, Jacobs 0, still batting in top 5th. She had one homer going into today’s game. pic.twitter.com/mdLwu31Lho
There is a familiar feeling with this year’s team, Hunkins said.
“We all want it, and that’s what it really comes down to,” said Hunkins, who was 3 for 4 and added an RBI hit in the sixth. “I think we want it more than any team in the state. Our team just works so well together. We have really good momentum going into each game.”
“It seems like this was her game, her time to shine,” Huntley coach Mark Petryniec said. “Reese had a real big day today, and that is what we expect from her. She’s a big part of this lineup. She’s been through this before.”
Hunkins’ solo homer in the second inning got the Raiders going, but there were plenty of other big hits along the way. Madi Smith added her second home run in as many games, Katie Mitchell (3 for 4, run scored, RBI) had three hits from the leadoff spot, and Clara Hudgens (triple, two runs scored), Jori Heard (double, RBI) and Marley Reicher (double, two runs scored, RBI) each added an extra-base hit.
The Raiders also stole seven bases.
After Hunkins’ homer in the second, Huntley went on to score three more runs despite getting only one hit, using four steals to take a 4-0 lead against Jacobs pitcher Delaney Garden.
“I wouldn’t want to scout us because we’re going to get you from any different way,” Petryniec said. “We’re going to put the ball in play and make you work. Once we get on base, it’s a nice luxury that we can move them over without having to put the ball in play.”
Huntley’s Briana Bower, a Mississippi State commit, flirted with a no-hitter and allowed one hit, a solid single to center field from Jacobs’ Arya Patel with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Bower struck out the next batter, her ninth of the game, giving her 400 strikeouts for the season.
Bower has 402 strikeouts going into the sectional final.
“We had to be on our ‘A’ game. Seeing a team three times, anything can happen,” Bower said of facing Jacobs a third time. “Today we just made an adjustment at the plate. After that first inning, we picked it up and just went from there. It was pretty helpful for me on the mound. I felt pretty relieved.”
Jacobs went 23-7, winning it first regional title since 2012. Golden Eagles coach Katie O’Brien met with the team’s only two seniors, Garden and Sarah Lynch, long after the team’s postgame huddle.
“They were the only two freshmen together, and they just kind of made it through the years together,” O’Brien said. “They’re the core of the team, and it’s going to be really hard to replace them. They’re both going to play in college and not too far away, so we’re looking forward to their futures of softball. Softball doesn’t define them. All of them are amazing young women.”
Huntley will host the sectional final, despite having a lower seed than Harlem.
Before sectionals started, it was determined that the team in the lower half of the bracket (Huntley or Jacobs) would host the final no matter what. The Raiders so far have drawn big crowds as the visitor.
“It was definitely a team effort today,” said Hudgens, a sophomore. “We’re super excited [for Thursday]. I’m glad that it’s at home. We get to have our fans come out again. It means a lot.”