Softball: Joliet West edges Plainfield Central on senior night for critical conference win

Avery Houlihan’s 2-run homer gives Tigers cushion in 4-2 victory

Joliet West’s Brooke Schwall celebrates as she heads home after her solo home run against Plainfield Central on Wednesday, May 15, 2024 in Joliet.

JOLIET – Joliet West and Plainfield Central entered Wednesday’s softball game with a lot to play for in the Southwest Prairie Conference.

West was 9-5 in conference play, while Plainfield Central was 8-5. Central could move ahead of West for third in the standings, while the host Tigers would be tied with Yorkville for fourth if Plainfield Central got the win. Conversely, Joliet West would strengthen its hold on the third sport with a W.

Whether it was home-field advantage or the senior night vibes that made it happen, the Tigers will hang on to that third-place spot any way they can.

Senior Avery Houlihan’s two-out, two-run homer in the fourth inning gave Joliet West the cushion it needed to feel comfortable the rest of the night as it took a 4-2 victory over the Wildcats.

The Tigers (17-10, 10-5 SPC) appropriately got big-time plays from their seniors on senior night. Brook Schwall broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the second with a leadoff solo home run. Emma Sommerfeld tied it with an RBI double in the top of the third to score McKenna Ignasak.

The Tigers got another big play from a senior in the bottom of the inning to get back on top as Shelby Fraser scored on an error. Houlihan’s homer in the fourth scored Mallory Crisafulli to make it 4-1 and give West a little breathing room.

It got a little interesting in the top of the seventh when Plainfield Central got two runners on to start, then Sommerfeld scored on a sacrifice bunt by Laney Barbic to cut it to 4-2. The Tigers got the final outs they needed, however, and got out with the win.

“We played really well yesterday [against Yorkville],” Tigers coach Heather Suca said. “We came back today and played pretty good. Props to [Plainfield Central]. They played really well and competed today.”

It also helped when you get a performance like the Tigers got in the circle. She may not be a senior, but junior Madison Jadron sure stood out Wednesday, striking out four with no walks and one earned run allowed on five hits.

“Madison had a very good game today,” Suca said. “She was moving the ball well and hitting her spots well today.”

Still, on senior night, you have to give props to the fourth-year students who showed out. Schwall finished 2 for 3 with the solo shot, while Houlihan had the two RBIs to lead the way. Eight out of nine Tiger batters collected a hit as the team finished with nine.

More than the stats, however, it was about celebrating those who have put the most time into this program.

“It’s definitely been a ride,” Schwall said. “We are not the same people we were when we were freshmen, including myself and even the coaching staff. I feel like we’ve bonded together and we’ve grown together. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

As for Plainfield Central (15-10, 8-6), it was a solid effort against another quality program, though the final score will sting. Sommerfeld’s two hits led the way, while Ignasak had a double. All the Wildcats can do now is try to regroup against Joliet Central on Thursday before closing the regular season Friday against Plainfield South.

“I thought we played great defense,” Central coach Kate Walsh said. “We hung in there. Just needed to make some adjustments at the plate. We need to make them work a bit harder and put the ball on the ground and go out and compete. It was solid defense for us.”

Joliet West will host Romeoville on Thursday and Plainfield East on Friday.