Softball: Hot start, strong finish send Rock Falls past Richmond-Burton in sectional semifinal

Thatcher throws 5-hit shutout, strikes out 11 with no walks in 6-inning victory

Rock Falls players gather at the pitcher's circle after defeating Richmond Burton Tuesday at the Stillman Valley sectional.

STILLMAN VALLEY – Rock Falls made an immediate statement in Tuesday afternoon’s Class 2A Stillman Valley Sectional semifinal, scoring four runs in the first inning to take control against Richmond-Burton.

With a five-hit shutout from senior pitcher Katie Thatcher, and another four-run inning in the fifth, it cruised to a 10-0, six-inning win, advancing to Friday’s sectional championship to face Marengo, which rolled past Johnsburg 18-0 in Tuesday night’s second semifinal.

Rock Falls (28-5) rolled to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, sparked by senior Brooke Howard’s leadoff double. Senior Savanna Fritz grounded out, moving Howard to third. Thatcher took a walk with one out and stole second while senior Zoe Morgan was up to bat, then Morgan ripped a two-run double down the right-field line, scoring Howard and Thatcher for a 2-0 lead.

Senior Patty Teague smacked a single to left field and stole second on the next at-bat, then scored along with Morgan for a 4-0 lead as senior Abby Whiles snuck a two-run single under short.

“Coming out hot in the first inning really sent them a message, knowing that we’re out here to get some blood and that we’re going to win this thing,” Thatcher said. “And then to keep tallying them on really gives us reassurance, knowing that we’re not giving up and we’re going to power through until the end.”

Thatcher struck out the side in the bottom of the first.

“Today, we really needed [Katie]. She came out right away with three big strikeouts in the first inning, which, that really set the tone for the other team, so that was a great start,” Morgan said. “She did very good pitching for us.”

“She means a lot every game, and we appreciate her dearly. And we’re just there for her and we try to keep her up as much as we can,” Whiles said. “I think that’s all we can do as a team, is keep everybody up and keep going.”

Rock Falls pitcher Katie Thatcher is focused on the plate as she prepares to hurl a ball to the plate Tuesday during sectional semifinal action against Richmond Burton.

Richmond-Burton sophomore Hailey Holtz went 1-2-3 in the top of the second, then R-B (17-9) stranded runners on first and second in the bottom of the inning. Senior Lyndsay Regnier skipped a one-out single to center field between two Thatcher strikeouts to get the first runner on, then freshman Rebecca Lanz ripped a single between short and third. But after a flyout on the next at-bat, R-B came up empty-handed.

Rock Falls added one run in the top of the third. Thatcher led off with a single to shallow left field, then Morgan was hit by a pitch and Teague laid down a sacrifice bunt to get runners on second and third. Thatcher came home on a Whiles sacrifice fly to right field for a 5-0 lead.

Holtz induced two flyouts around an error, then grounded out the fourth batter to cap a scoreless fourth inning.

Regnier crushed a one-out, ground-rule double to left field in the bottom of the fourth, but Thatcher struck out junior Sydney Hird in the next at-bat, then grounded out Lanz to keep R-B scoreless for another inning.

“Really, finding out the umpire’s strike zone is the first thing, and knowing what he’s going to call,” Thatcher said about her approach in the circle. “Once I figure that out, I just hammer the zone, and I hope that they swing at the stuff I want them to swing at, and I get the weak ground balls that I want.”

Rock Falls exploded for four more runs in the top of the fifth. Thatcher drew a leadoff walk, and her courtesy runner, sophomore Jeslyn Krueger, scored on a Whiles single past third base. Maddie Morgan ripped a hole-shot to center field for a single, then senior Rylee Johnson doubled to bring in Whiles. Junior Olivia Osborne followed with a two-run bloop double to left, plating Morgan and Johnson for a 9-0 lead.

Richmond Burton's Lyndsay Reginier dives back to first on a high throw to Rock Falls firstbasman Abby Whiles during sectional semifinal action Tuesday.

“I think the first four [runs] definitely were like a little sneak peek and kind of a good taste of what we wanted,” Whiles said. “And we just ran with it and didn’t let up.”

Down by nine runs, Richmond-Burton made a pitching change with two outs in the inning, as sophomore Madison Kunzer came on for Holtz.

Kunzer struck out Howard immediately to end the inning.

But Rock Falls wasn’t quite done scoring.

In the top of the sixth, Zoe Morgan hammered a solo home run to left field, scoring the 10th and final run.

In the bottom of the sixth, Thatcher induced two groundouts around a single and a flyout, sealing the six-inning win. She struck out 11 without a walk in the shutout.

Rock Falls batter Patty Teague hustled down the line but was thrown out at first by inches as Richmond Burton's Norah Spittler squeezes the ball to make the play during sectional semifinal action Tuesday.

Whiles and Zoe Morgan both went 2 for 3 to lead Rock Falls; Whiles tallied four RBIs and Morgan totaled three RBIs, including the solo home run.

Regnier went 2 for 3 to lead Richmond-Burton. Kunzer pitched 1 1/3 innings of relief, allowing one run on one hit, and striking out two with no walks.

Rock Falls will play Marengo in the sectional championship Friday at 4:30 p.m. at Davis Junction Community Park. The Rockets are looking for their first sectional title since 2004, when they finished fourth at state.

“I think we’ve just gotta keep staying loose, having fun. That’s what we’ve been saying in the dugout before every game, is play our game and have fun. No pressure,” Thatcher said. “We made it through regionals, we’ve met our goals, and now we’re going to keep striving and hopefully get down to Peoria for the championship.”

“I think we need to continue the offense and defense, and definitely being loud and cheering all the time and staying up,” Zoe Morgan said. “That’s definitely our strong suit, is we’re always hyped in the dugout. And that helps a lot – people don’t realize it, but it does.”

Richmond Burton batter Hailey Holtz makes contact during a game against Rock Falls Tuesday. Catching for Rock Falls is Olivia Osborne.
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Dan Wussow

Dan Wussow

Dan is the sports editor for Sauk Valley Media. Previously, he wrote for The Post-Crescent in his hometown of Appleton, WI.