HUNTLEY – Huntley senior Jori Heard has found an almost perfect solution to guarantee a win.
Don’t let the other team get any hits.
The Red Raiders ace and NCAA Division I Valparaiso commit was at it again Wednesday against Grant, fanning 18 in seven innings, throwing her second perfect game of the postseason and running her hitless streak to an impressive 25 2/3 innings.
Heard, who has tossed two perfect games and two no-hitters in her past four starts, and the top-seeded Raiders shut out No. 3-seeded Grant, 3-0, in a Class 4A Huntley Sectional semifinal and will now play for their third consecutive sectional championship.
Huntley (31-6), the undefeated Fox Valley Conference champion, will meet No. 1-seeded Barrington (31-5), the Mid-Suburban League champion, for the sixth straight postseason at 10 a.m. Saturday. The winner will advance to Monday’s Barrington Supersectional.
The Raiders defeated the Fillies in a supersectional a year ago on a dramatic, walk-off home run in the 11th inning and have won the past two postseason meetings between the perennial contenders. Barrington won the first three.
Heard, who surpassed 400 strikeouts in Wednesday’s win against Grant, is excited to see the Fillies again.
Last year’s game for Huntley was pitched by Briana Bower, now a freshman at Mississippi State.
“I think we’ll have a lot of people here, it will be loud, and it will be a lot of fun,” said Heard, who now is 26-6 and has allowed only 10 earned runs with 412 strikeouts and 18 walks in 192 2/3 innings pitched. “We’re excited for it.”
Raiders coach Mark Petryniec isn’t sure he has seen a pitcher go on a run like Heard, who has been overpowering in the postseason.
“As a coach, you just sit there in awe and you admire it,” Petryniec said. “She’s been phenomenal. She’s hitting her spots, she’s changing speeds, and I wouldn’t want to game plan against her.”
Huntley got all three of its runs in the top of the first inning after three consecutive hits by Katie Mitchell, Clara Hudgens and Heard. Heard’s base hit to center field knocked in Mitchell, and that was followed by RBI groundouts from Reese Hunkins and Zoe Doherty.
That was all the run support Heard needed as she retired all 21 batters in order.
Heard needed only 10 pitches to strike out the side in the bottom of the first inning and struck out the first 12 batters she faced before Grant’s Hailie Feltner connected on a solid grounder to first baseman Meghan Ryan in the fourth, which Ryan knocked down, corralled and stepped on first.
Grant’s Sofia DeAngelis flew out to right field to start the bottom of the sixth and the next batter, Brianne Lopez, hit a comebacker to Heard that she handled and threw to first. Heard struck out the final batter in the sixth and whiffed all three in the seventh inning.
Bulldogs coach Chris Van Alstine thought his team had a better approach after one time through the order.
“[Our approach] was to work quick and not take huge long swings, just working quick and short to the barrel,” Van Alstine said. “I thought our No. 4 hitter [Feltner] really made it look doable. Her first at-bat, she smoked a couple in their dugout off their coaches. When we get short and quick on a girl like her, you don’t have to overpower her. You let her do all the work. It just took us awhile.”
Junior pitcher Shelby Wasilewski was tough for the Bulldogs and allowed only three base runners after the first. She did not get any strikeouts or issue any walks, and Huntley didn’t have much hard contact against her, finishing with five hits.
“Her back was tremendously sore, and we didn’t know how long she was going to go,” Van Alstine said of Wasilewski, who is committed to D-II Montana State. “She ended up getting stronger as the game went on, and that’s just who she is. I’ve been watching her [pitch] since fifth grade. She’s grown up a ton, and I’m so excited to watch her next year.”
Grant finished 19-13-1, won its first regional title since 1996 and placed third in the Northern Lake County Conference behind Antioch and Wauconda.
Wasilewski was one of 12 juniors on the Bulldogs this season. Miranda Rodriguez and Kaylin Berwanger were the only two seniors.
“It really meant a lot to see my defense was always there whenever I needed them,” Wasilewski said. “I think next year, we’ll be even better. We’ll have a team basically full of seniors. We’ve played with each other three years now. I think we’ll have a great season.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge of the year awaits Huntley next.
Barrington, which averages 11.6 runs a game, already has set the state’s all-time, single-season record for homers.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time and right now it’s sectionals and getting past Barrington,” said Hudgens, who was on last year’s team that beat Barrington and went on to place third at state. “I think they’re right there on the same level as us.