Softball: One hit for Fritz, one-hitter for Thatcher sends Rock Falls to regional title

Seniors come through at the plate, in the circle as Rockets top North Boone

The Rock Falls Rockets celebrate their regional win over North Boone 2-0 Friday, May 19, 2023.

ROCK FALLS – With the way Katie Thatcher and Cami Carter were dealing in the circle Friday, you got the sense early on in their Class 2A Rock Falls Regional final that whichever team could put together even just one rally, it would be enough to win the game.

Rock Falls that did just that, scoring a pair of runs on a Savanna Fritz third-inning single on its way to a 2-0 win over North Boone to win its first regional championship in five years.

“It’s amazing. We’re all basically seniors, and we’ve been wanting it since we started playing,” senior first baseman Rylee Johnson said. “It’s just amazing, there’s no other word to describe it.”

“I cried all day at school, I was so nervous,” said Thatcher, who struck out 12 in a one-hitter. “This is as good as I imagined, if not better, to be holding this plaque.”

“It’s what we wanted from the start of the season,” senior center fielder Brooke Howard added. “It came from the same team we had last year, but this year we just worked together so much better and I think it shows.”

Rock Falls’ Katie Thatcher celebrates the final out of the Rockets’ 2-0 regional win over North Boone Friday, May 19, 2023.

It certainly showed in the decisive third inning. Johnson led off with a single up the middle, then Olivia Osborne hit a ground ball to move Johnson to second. Howard followed with a bloop double just inside the left-field foul line, and after hesitating, Johnson sprinted to third as Howard motored into second to put runners on second and third with one out.

“I thought it was foul at first, and then I was waiting for Steve [Giddings, the Rock Falls coach] to say something. I heard him say ‘Go!’ so I was just running for my life,” Johnson said.

Fritz followed with a ground ball single up the middle nearly identical to Johnson’s, and Johnson and Howard both scored standing up for a 2-0 lead.

“I didn’t watch it, didn’t even see where it went. I just ran to first and knew it was a hit when I rounded first and saw Brooke running home,” Fritz said. “Katie [Thatcher] was right in my eyes before I batted telling me, ‘This is all you, this is your turn. We need you here.’ So I just tried to do my job for the whole team, and that’s what I needed to do.”

“Savanna’s a great person, a great hitter. It was amazing,” Johnson said. “As soon as she hit it, I thought, ‘I’m going home as fast as I can!’ It was amazing, such a great hit by her.”

Rock Falls’ Brooke Howard celebrates after coming in to score on Savanna Fritz’ two RBI double Friday, May 19, 2023.

The three hits in that inning accounted for almost half of the Rockets’ seven hits in the game. Fritz added another single in the sixth, and Zoe Morgan, Patty Teague and Osborne each added singles for Rock Falls (27-5).

“I think as soon as Rylee hit it up the middle, it just fired us all up,” Howard said. “When one person hits, it seems like we all start hitting, and with it being a regional game, we all were just so fired up. That’s all we needed, was just the one hit to get us going.”

It was plenty of support for Thatcher, who pounded the strike zone with velocity and precision. She threw 75% of her pitches (72 out of 97) for strikes, and worked 1-2-3 innings in the first, second, fifth and seventh.

Rock Falls’ Katie Thatcher fires a pitch against North Boone  Friday, May 19, 2023.

The senior Louisville recruit allowed just three baserunners all game: a leadoff walk in the third, after which she struck out the next three batters; a two-out error in the fourth (another inning where she recorded three strikeouts); and Camdyn Hall’s infield single to lead off the sixth. Thatcher got two strikeouts and a pop out back to the circle to end that inning.

“Everything was working today. I warmed up and thought, ‘I’m feeling really good today.’ I knew coming into this game that everything had to be working if we were going to win,” Thatcher said. “When I was warming up, everything was looking great, so I was really confident going into the game. Letting the defense work was a big thing, and it was great.”

Carter also pitched well for the Vikings (23-5). She allowed two runs and seven hits, and had five strikeouts without a walk in a complete game. She worked 1-2-3 innings in the first, second and fourth, and pitched around singles in the second and fifth before getting out of a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth with consecutive strikeouts.

North Boone’s Camryn Carter fires a pitch against Rock Falls Friday, May 19, 2023.

The North Boone junior said it was the back-and-forth with Thatcher that kept the energy of herself and her team high.

“It’s amazing, it’s always a great time pitching against her. I’ve been playing against her since I was a freshman, and it’s always a great game when we play them,” said Carter, who called the screwball her go-to pitch on Friday. “It’s like that feeling that you always want to outdo each other. It’s always fun, because it’s always good competition and you always want to keep improving.

“But one hit changes everything. It changes the mood, it shifts the game. That’s what we were looking for to try to get our momentum, and it just happened that they got it. They got the girls on base and just put it together, and that’s how they won.”

Thatcher said the run support gave her even more confidence to go back out in the circle and keep doing her thing against another strong pitcher.

“I feel like definitely to start, we were both feeding off each other. That first batter of the game, she kept fouling pitches off, and I thought, ‘Oh boy, the game’s going to be like this,’” Thatcher said. “But as it went on, three up, three down, three up, three down, and then finally when we got the runs that we needed it was pressure lifted off my shoulders.

“Those two runs were crucial, so it was great having those runs behind me and being able to throw what I wanted to throw.”

Rock Falls’ Rylee Johnson hauls in a pop up for an out against North Boone Friday, May 19, 2023.

The defenses were both on point. North Boone didn’t commit an error, and the only one for the Rockets was an errant throw to first by Thatcher after fielding Carter’s squibber up the first-base line with two outs in the fourth.

Fritz said getting the lead helped Rock Falls settle in both at the plate and in the field.

“I’m glad we scored first and got that lead. I believe in the team, that we were going to finish strong. And if our defense kept up the way that we’ve been practicing and playing lately, then we would be fine,” Fritz said. “We didn’t stress over it or anything.”

“We just needed one hit, and I was lucky it was me,” Johnson added. “It started us going as soon as I hit it, and I’m glad we all did great. We kept the energy up the whole time and it was great.”

The Rockets advance to the 2A Stillman Valley Sectional semifinals, where they will face Richmond-Burton at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

North Boone coach Tim Fleming said he knew it was likely going to come down to which offense could find a way to scratch across a couple of runs. And even though it wasn’t his team, he was proud of the way they played all year, this final game included.

North Boone has just one senior on the roster, and will look to build off of this and come back even stronger next spring.

“Really, that’s what it comes down to when you get two good pitchers; whoever has that one better inning will usually win. Credit Katie, she really pitched her butt off today, just kind of kept us off-balance all day long,” he said. “Obviously everybody wants to keep moving on, but somebody’s season had to end here today. Overall we had a great year, and I’m proud of my team. We’ll come back strong next year.”

Rock Falls’ Maddison Morgan drives the ball against North Boone Friday, May 19, 2023.
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Ty Reynolds

Ty Reynolds

Ty is the Sports Editor at Sauk Valley Media, and has covered sports in the Sauk Valley for more than two decades.