The temptation to look forward to a potential blockbuster regional championship game with Burlington Central is powerful for the Kaneland softball team, but the Knights have one major factor that should help them guard against doing so – May 25, 2013.
The Knights were a huge favorite in last year’s regional final against Rosary but absorbed a shocking, 7-6, defeat to the sub-.500 Royals that ended Kaneland’s season with a hollow feeling despite the Knights’ 23-4 final record.
As Kaneland prepares to open postseason play in Wednesday’s IHSA Class 3A Burlington Central Regional semifinal against Genoa-Kingston, that jarring loss should serve as a cautionary tale.
“If we didn’t learn from it then, we wouldn’t be very good players or coaches if we didn’t take something out of that loss,” Kaneland coach Brian Willis said.
The Knights (19-11) have played their best softball in recent weeks, including a rare three-win day to cap the regular season Saturday as Kaneland swept a doubleheader at Rosary and also beat West Aurora.
Genoa-Kingston is a less familiar opponent for the Knights, but that’s OK by Willis.
“I think I’d rather not know than worry about this or worry about that,” Willis said. “The way we’re playing, I know we’re going to go out and be competitive. It really doesn’t matter who’s across on the other side.”
If top-seeded Burlington Central and second-seeded Kaneland can avert midweek upsets, a regional championship game between the teams Saturday carries an unavoidable storyline.
Knights junior pitcher Angie Morrow transferred from Central to Kaneland this year and would be going against her former school for the first time. The teams were scheduled to play early this season, but the game was postponed because of weather conditions and was not rescheduled.
“It’s just a different dynamic to a game,” Central coach Wade Maisto said of a potential meeting with Kaneland. “You can say what you want but it’s just a different element to the game, of the importance, getting fired up, etc. You can say all you want that’s it’s just another team. It pretty much is, but if you’re going out throwing against a school you used to be a part of, your juices are going to be flowing, there’s no doubt about it. That’s just human nature.”
Morrow, a Wisconsin recruit, pitched for the Rockets as a freshman, then missed her sophomore season due to injury.
She’s contributed to the Knights’ late-season uptick after knocking away any lingering rust, firing a shutout in Saturday’s 1-0 win over West Aurora.
Morrow said she will do her best to focus on the job at hand if the Rockets stand in Kaneland’s way.
“I think my mentality going into the game is going to have to be I don’t know any of the girls on the team and I’m playing to win, and whatever happens, happens,” Morrow said. “But I can’t go into the game saying ‘Oh, I know this girl or I know I need to throw this against this girl.’ I just have to go into it, yeah, I know this girl is good, and I have to get her out. I can’t think of names and I can’t think of the past. I just have to live in the present.”
Keeping human nature at bay might prove especially tricky against Central slugger and Northern Illinois recruit Bekah Harnish. The two have remained tight despite Morrow’s transfer.
“I knew we were close enough,” Morrow said. “We are pretty much sisters so I knew we would be perfectly fine.”
Morrow’s pitching counterpart in a potential Central matchup is uncertain. Maisto considers Brooke Gaylord and Emily Kisch co-aces.
“They both have pitched well enough to deserve starts [in the postseason] but there’s no rule that says you can’t use both of them in a game, too,” Maisto said. “I certainly don’t have to leave one in if things aren’t going very well so it gives me some nice options to use. I don’t just have to have one pitcher that, good or bad, I’m going to go with them, and that’s been the case a lot of years.”
SOFTBALL REGIONALS BREAKDOWN
Best first-round matchup: (11) Rosary vs. (7) Wheaton Academy at 3A Lemont Regional semifinal, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Suburban Christian Conference rivals will likely fight it out for a chance to play host Lemont in the regional final. Warriors shortstop Marissa Gagliano is the best player on the field most days and could be the difference-maker in what could be a high-scoring affair as neither team possesses a dominant pitcher.
Best potential regional final: (4) St. Charles North vs. (5) Bartlett at 4A Addison Trail Regional. Granted, a potential Kaneland-Burlington Central showdown in 3A carries the best storyline, given the Angie Morrow factor. But strictly from a softball standpoint, North-Bartlett would be great theater. When the North Stars and Hawks met during the regular season, North held off Bartlett for a tense, 3-2 win that ended with Hawks coach Jim Wolfsmith howling about a disputed call at first base.
Best area bet to win a regional: St. Charles East at 4A St. Charles East Regional. Third-seeded East likely will face a serious test in a regional final with slugging shortstop Becca Maher and traditional power Elk Grove, the sectional No. 6 seed, waiting in the wings. But the defending Class 4A runners-up have winning postseason experience, a deep lineup and home-field advantage, and the Saints figure to be an extremely tough out.
Potential dark horse: Geneva at 4A Geneva Regional. Despite a 21-win regular season, 11th seeded Geneva is an underdog out of the gate in Tuesday’s semifinal against No. 5 seed Waubonsie Valley. Geneva figures to see Waubonsie ace Shannon Hohman – a difficult assignment – but the Vikings’ youthful lineup can be explosive, and freshman slugger Annika Radabaugh is on a late-season tear. The Vikings have the ability to change the pace in the circle with hard-throwing Emily Plocinski and finesse pitcher Rachel Fanella.
– Jay Schwab, firstname.lastname@example.org