MAPLE PARK – Early-count aggressiveness burned the Kaneland softball team before benefiting it Tuesday afternoon.
If the Knights had to do their 5-4 victory against Sycamore over again, they’d hope to breathe easier. Still, nothing would change about an eager offensive approach that ultimately led them past their Northern Illinois Big 12 East rival.
With the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Knights junior designated player Caroline Heimerdinger smacked Abby Foulk’s first pitch to left field for a game-ending single. Although Kaneland already had squandered leads of 3-0 and 4-2 in the final two innings, Heimerdinger itched to act on instinct when she saw an appealing delivery.
“Kind of just whatever is around there,” she said. “I always go for the first pitches if they’re close. I don’t know, that’s what I always do.”
Sycamore (4-9, 0-5 NI Big 12 East) could attest in the late innings, capitalizing as Knights sophomore right-hander Anissa Becker began leaving pitches up in the strike zone.
Trailing 3-0 with one out in the sixth, the Spartans tied the score behind left fielder Jasmyne Taylor’s two-run homer and a Knights error. Kaneland (8-2, 2-1) responded with Paige Kuefler’s run-scoring single in the bottom half to grab a 4-3 lead.
That advantage appeared safe until Sycamore first baseman Brittany Huber lofted a two-out fly ball to right center that eluded sprawling Knights center fielder Lanie Callaghan and scored the tying run.
“I got a bad jump on it and I should have dove earlier,” Callaghan said, “but you know what, we got out of the inning.”
Kaneland used its familiarity with Foulk, a senior righty who also pitches against some players during summer club season, to quickly stage the winning rally.
A soothing feeling for the Knights – who loaded the bases with no outs in the third but made the next three outs in seven pitches – turned sour for Sycamore. The Spartans were out-hit, 15-9.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been knocking on the door and we haven’t been able to kick it down yet,” Spartans coach Jill Carpenter said. “From a coaching staff perspective, we’re getting a little bit sick of just coming close. We would like to be able to start games a little bit better.”
Kaneland overcame an early base-running gaffe to keep the inning alive for Callaghan’s two-run homer in the first, which came on a 1-1 pitch.
The Knights stranded 10 runners, but coach Brian Willis didn’t find fault with a swing-first approach that produced three-hit games from left fielder Lexi Roach, shortstop Allyson O’Herron and Heimerdinger.
“We try to tell the girls don’t go chasing, but if it’s in your zone and it’s early and the situation calls for it, then go ahead and swing,” Willis said.
Along with Taylor and Huber, Taylor Jones and Paige Bjork had two hits apiece for Sycamore.
Knights’ reliever Ellissa Eckert, who got the victory despite a blown save, notched the only two strikeouts between the teams.
Kaneland nearly was reminded of a conference loss to Yorkville in which it controlled the game until the late innings. In this instance, the Knights turned things around in time.
“We got out of this one,” Callaghan said, “which is strong and a huge character-builder, so that was good.”