SYCAMORE – The way Sycamore softball coach Jill Carpenter puts it, when a team gets out of a jam, there can be a big uplift in their dugout.
On the other side of the diamond, it’s a big deflation.
This statement perfectly characterizes the third inning in the Spartans’ 11-1, six-inning regional loss to Burlington Central on Tuesday. The Rockets (27-3) advance to the Class 3A Sycamore Regional final and will face the winner of this afternoon’s game between second-seeded Marengo and third-seeded Genoa-Kingston.
Sycamore (14-19) loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the third, but couldn’t bring home a run. In the bottom of the inning, Burlington Central opened the floodgates with seven runs – including three homers.
It was a huge momentum swing in the contest.
“I believe in my girls. I believe in every one of these girls every bit,” said Spartans leadoff hitter Jordyn Shultz, who was stranded on third base when Sycamore had the potential for a big inning. “I was expecting something to happen.”
Sycamore stranded nine runners, a day after Carpenter said the Spartans left 13 on base in a regional quarterfinal win over Hampshire on Monday. Carpenter said hitting with runners in scoring position has been one of the team’s weaknesses all season.
“That’s really the only thing we talked about (after the game). It’s been our Achilles’ heel all year,” Carpenter said. “We hit about .300 with nobody on base, and we hit about .230 with runners in scoring position.”
Burlington Central opened the scoring with a run in the first, and also got one run each in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings against Spartans pitcher Taylor Zak, who was starting in place of Abby Foulk, the team’s usual starter. Foulk was injured in Monday’s victory.
Carpenter let Foulk take the field at second base for one pitch in the sixth, before she left the field with a standing ovation. Foulk will play at Waubonsee Community College next season, and Carpenter didn’t want to risk long-term injury.
Foulk is one of three seniors on the Spartans, along with Brit Huber and Becca Schroeder. All three hit above .300 this season, and were sophomore starters on the Spartans’ team that made a super-sectional two years ago.
“Those three have been a huge part of our program,” Carpenter said. “A lot of wins with those three.”