ALGONQUIN – The lasting image from the DeKalb softball team’s 8-4 win over McHenry in the Class 4A Jacobs Sectional semifinal will be Sarah Friedlund’s fifth-inning homer.
Deservedly so. Friedlund’s blast was part of a huge DeKalb seven-run inning and gave the Barbs a 7-4 lead, propelling them to Saturday’s sectional championship game.
DeKalb’s offense came alive, as the Barbs got contributions up and down the lineup, just when it looked like DeKalb wasn’t going to do much, if anything, against McHenry pitcher Kristin Koepke.
While that’s what fans in attendance will remember, they should also look back at what Barbs starting pitcher Katie Kowalski was able to do. The senior was shaky during the first three innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on five hits, including two doubles in addition to the homer.
Yet when DeKalb had its backs against the wall, when Kowalski had no room for error, the senior pitched like an ace and was at her best.
Throughout the final four innings of the game, Kowalski allowed just one hit – a Koepke single in the fifth, and struck out four Warrior hitters.
“She actually started mixing up her pitches better,” DeKalb coach Jeff Davis said. “She went to a couple more changeups late in the game. Got them off stride a little bit. She did a great job. She got mad there in the third when they got their second two, but she held her composure well. She did awesome for us.”
While Kowalski held McHenry at bay after early struggles, Koepke, McHenry’s hurler, wasn’t able to stop the bleeding during the big DeKalb fifth inning, which began with an error.
The top of the McHenry order which gave Kowalski so many fits early on – the Warriors 2-4 hitters of Hannah Crowley, Koepke and Wiegman combined to reach base five of the six times they were at the plate during the first three innings, was held in check as the game went on.
“They were just up on the plate. They just moved up in the box, they were ready for movement. They knew what to expect, they were just hitting the ball where I pitched it,” Kowalski said. “So I just had to really focus on tuning in my pitches, hitting my corners, hitting my spots. Adjusting better.”
Though her final line from Wednesday’s game may not have been dominant, Kowalski was able to overcome some early trouble and was an important part of the Barbs’ win.
She’ll have to play an important role if DeKalb is going to win a sectional title on Saturday.