DeKALB – Aurora Central Catholic softball coach Jim Hallahan joked that he is going to level a complaint against Jugs, the company that produces the pitching machines teams commonly use for batting practice.
“They need to invent a machine that throws a riseball so we can practice against that,” Hallahan said. “We spent the last two days practicing 60 mph pitches, just putting the ball in play, just leaving your hips at home and putting the ball in play. What you can’t teach them is how to lay off that high stuff.”
The riseball showcased by Peru St. Bede pitching ace Lainie Schweickert took too long for the Chargers to get a handle on Monday as ACC’s early offensive woes turned in to a 6-1 loss to the Bruins in the IHSA Class 2A Northern Illinois University Supersectional.
The Chargers’ unexpectedly prolonged postseason push ended one game shy of East Peoria as ACC closed its season with a 13-14 record.
“We needed to go to state to get to .500 ball,” Hallahan said. “Isn’t that something?”
Schweickert threw a one-hitter against the Chargers, whose lone hit was a one-out, solo home run down the left field line by freshman pitcher Paige Miller in the top of the sixth to draw ACC within 5-1.
Miller will be the centerpiece of a promising core of Chargers returnees that hopes to build off the momentum of the first sectional title in program history.
“It’s still shocking, but then we came together at the end, so then it wasn’t as shocking,” Miller said. “Maybe from the regular season, yeah, because we were making lots of errors, but then we came along in the beginning of regionals, coming out strong.”
Schweickert struck out 14 batters on the afternoon, including 10 among the first 12 outs she recorded. St. Bede’s offense, meanwhile, posted a four-spot in the bottom of the first inning to give their Lewis University-bound right-hander substantial breathing room.
Still, the Chargers made matters interesting in the top of the sixth. After Miller’s homer – her first of the season, although the Chargers have pitcher-friendly outfield dimensions at their home field, Hallahan noted – left fielder Jami Dahl walked, and third baseman Gabi Alfaro reached on an error, eventually giving the Chargers runners at second and third with one out.
But Schweickert retired the next two Chargers to keep ACC at arm’s length, and St. Bede (24-5) added a final, insurance run in the bottom of the sixth.
ACC would have been in worse shape if not for a strong defensive showing, especially by Alfaro at third base and shortstop Clare Tack, who started an inning-ending, double play by snaring a low liner in the bottom of the fourth.
Bruins coach Bill Prokup’s team will play a 2A state semifinal Friday in East Peoria against the winner of today’s Athens Supersectional.
“I’m a dad, too, on this team – you can’t describe the feeling of seeing these kids as freshmen and sophomores, and how happy and excited they were today,” Prokup said. “It’s a feeling you can’t replace. We’ll go get a trophy, and hopefully it’s the one that has a 1 on it.”
With Schweickert and her 200-plus strikeouts on the season leading the way, the Chargers saw first-hand why that’s a realistic possibility.
“She comes at you hard, and looks like she’s standing right in your face when she releases the ball,” Hallahan said.