BURLINGTON – After the Burlington Central softball team jumped to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first, Kaneland played catch-up the rest of the game, leading to a wild, walk-off finish.
Central answered a late Kaneland rally by pushing across the winning run in the bottom of the seventh as the Rockets defeated the Knights, 6-5, for the IHSA Class 3A Burlington Central Regional championship. The second regional title in three years for the Rockets (23-9) advances Central to Tuesday's Marengo Sectional semifinal against Sterling.
Kaneland trailed, 5-2, coming into the top of the seventh. The two runs for the Knights (20-13) had come back in the third inning off of a Paige Kuefler two-run single. Since scoring in the third, Kaneland's offense had gone quiet – until crunch time.
The wild seventh inning began with a Rachel Goress single followed by a Morgan Weber walk. Lanie Callaghan then bunted up the middle but the ball was thrown away as the Rockets tried to get the lead runner at third base, which brought in a run, making it 5-3.
Kuefler came to the plate with runners in scoring position for the second time in the game and produced by ripping a two-run double deep to right field to tie the game at 5.
Central starter Emily Kisch, who struck out four and walked three in six-plus innings, was lifted for senior Brooke Gaylord, who closed out the inning with two strikeouts and a weak grounder to first.
In the bottom of the seventh, speedy Courtni Neubauer reached first on an error, then stole second base. Kisch who moved to center field after pitching, came to the plate and reached on an infield single to the left side. After the throw to first, Neubauer broke for third base. The throw was high and went out of play, bringing in the winning run.
“I just did my part, getting the bat on the ball,” Neubauer said of the final sequence of the game. She said she was “just hoping for the best” when she broke for third base.
Kaneland starting pitcher Angie Morrow, a Wisconsin recruit, played her former team for the first time. Morrow transferred from Central to Kaneland after her sophomore year.
Morrow pitched all seven innings, striking out five with no walks. She allowed four runs in the top of the first, which started out with Central’s leadoff hitter and Morrow's close friend Bekah Harnish.
Harnish reached on a throwing error that opened up the inning. Two singles loaded the bases and back-to-back two-run hits by Kassidy Gaylord and Kisch gave Central the 4-0 lead.
“We showed a lot of character by coming back but we never should have put ourselves in a hole in the first place,” Kaneland coach Brian Willis said. “Good for [Central], they played hard, they played well, but we kind of gave them some opportunities.”
Central’s fifth run came in the bottom of the sixth on a Kaneland throwing error as well.
“It was a crazy ending,” Rockets assistant coach Lowell Oranger said. “It’s all about who makes less amount of errors … you got to have a little luck every now and again.”
Central head coach Wade Maisto was not at the game due to his daughter's graduation.