GENEVA – After the Kaneland softball team won Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader via an Angie Morrow no-hitter, Geneva was going to be hard-pressed to match those kind of style points in the second game.
The Vikings waited until the late innings, but ultimately held up their end of the bargain in the drama department, storming back from a six-run deficit to split the doubleheader with a 9-8 win in Game 2, capped by junior outfielder Madison Keith's walk-off, three-run home run.
The storyline was all the sweeter for Keith considering she transferred from Kaneland to Geneva after her freshman year and knows most of the Knights well.
Kaneland won the morning matchup, 3-0, thanks to Morrow's second career no-hitter – her first at Kaneland – and the Knights were in superb position for a sweep in Game 2, leading, 7-1, going into the bottom of the sixth.
But Geneva scored four in the bottom of the sixth to pull within 7-5, chasing Kaneland starting pitcher Courtney Davis and bringing in Shannon Herra.
A solo home run by Kaneland second baseman Morgan Weber puffed the Knights' lead to 8-5 in the top of the seventh, but the Vikings had inched back within two runs with a pair of runners aboard and none out by the time Keith came to bat in the bottom of the seventh.
A home track meet unfolded nearby the softball field, and Keith said she heard one of her friends on Geneva's boys track and field team, Grant Henderson, predict game-ending heroics from Keith.
"He's one of the throwers so he was just sitting back there," Keith said. "He called it, I heard him say it. It was kind of already in my mind, and then it happened, so that was kind of cool. … It was an awesome game, an awesome play right there. Felt good. First walk-off home run."
Keith spent a chunk of her time between games reconnecting with some of her former Kaneland classmates, but there was little question her strongest connection of the day came in the clutch on what Keith called a pitch that "was middle-outside, and it was a little bit higher, which I like."
Until her three-run blast to left-center, Keith was hitless on the day, and said she was putting too much pressure on herself against her former school.
"She was certainly among the leaders of those that were struggling, but that was a great adjustment," Geneva coach Greg Dierks said. "She got ahead on the count and she got a pitch to hit, and that was just a great swing.
"We lost to Waubonsie, 6-5, on Wednesday, and we had the tying run on second base at the end of the game after the two-out rally, and she missed by a hair of putting it out to put us ahead. It was really almost the identical situation. She just got it a little bit better on this one. That was gone by a longshot."
Consecutive singles by catcher Rylie Porretto and shortstop Kaitlyn Plocinski and an RBI double from cleanup hitter Molly Wrenn set up Geneva (6-4) for Keith's memorable home run.
Both teams benefited from sizzling offensive performances from a freshman in Game 2. Weber homered, doubled, singled, walked and laid down a sacrifice bunt in her five at-bats for Kaneland (7-7), while the Vikings' Wrenn went 4 for 4 with a pair of doubles and, like Weber, drove in three runs.
"She has really hit the ball well," Dierks said of Wrenn. "The majority of her hits, I'd say the first five games or so, were singles, but the extra base hits are starting to show up now. She has the ability to drive the ball hard in the gap like she was today."
There were far fewer offensive theatrics in the opener as Kaneland rode a splendid pitching performance from the hard-throwing Morrow. Morrow, a Burlington Central transfer who missed last year with a shoulder injury, said her other high school no-hitter came against Hampshire as a freshman.
"It means a lot to me for here at Kaneland because I really want to prove myself and show them that I'm here to do that, get ground balls and just get the outs for the girls," Morrow said.
Morrow struck out six, walked one and hit two batters. The walk and hit batsmen all came in the bottom of the second, when Morrow worked out of a based loaded, two-out jam on a line-out from Sarah Baurer to Knights third baseman Meg Cohrs, who had a busy and productive defensive day at the hot corner.
"I just had to take a deep breath," Morrow said. "That was my biggest thing. I think I was rushing and getting a little too into the game. I needed to take a deep breath and I needed to hit my spots."
The Vikings didn't hit the ball out of the infield against Morrow, grounding out 13 times in the game as Morrow's drop-ball did its job.
Morrow admitted to being perplexed when Knights coach Brian Willis visited the pitcher's circle with two outs and nobody on in the top of the seventh.
"We were just having a little fun with her," Willis said. "She had a no-hitter going, and I told her I was taking her out. It was nothing. I wasn't conveying anything except having a little bit of fun and lightening the moment in case she was feeling any pressure to get the last batter."
Kaneland took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first of Game 1 on an RBI double from Cohrs off Vikings starting pitcher Emily Plocinski.
That was the only earned run Plocinski allowed. Kaneland's final two runs scored in the top of the seventh when Geneva committed an error on leadoff hitter Lexi Roach's bunt up the first-base line with runners at second and third and two outs.
All three of Roach's hits for the day came in Game 2, while teammate Morgan Sikon notched a pair of hits in both games for the visitors.
Wrenn, Geneva's third baseman, picked up the Game 2 pitching win with minimal effort required. She relieved starting pitcher Rachel Fanella and walked the only batter she faced in the top of the seventh – Lanie Callaghan – who was then caught stealing by Porretto on a close play at second to end the inning.
Vikings center fielder Anna Geary recorded an outfield assist in the top of the sixth, throwing out Sikon at home plate to keep the Vikings' deficit at 7-1.
Geary's throw might not have seemed like a big deal at the time. Keith's clout a half hour later made it so.