WHEATON – St. Francis softball pitcher Maggie Remus retired the side in order in only one inning of Saturday’s IHSA Class 3A regional championship against Evergreen Park. But it was the most important inning – the top of the seventh.
The senior right-hander, nursing a one-run lead, was facing the bottom of the Mustangs' order. The south suburban school had already rallied twice to retake the lead and put at least one batter on base in the previous six innings.
Remus had a 1-2-3 inning with a groundout, a strikeout and flyout to end the game and earn St. Francis an 11-10, regional championship victory on the Spartans' own field.
St. Francis (24-5) advances to the Glenbard South Sectional and will play Suburban Christian Conference rival Montini in the first semifinal on Tuesday.
“As soon as I saw the balls were hit [in the seventh], I knew they would get caught because this team has good defense,” said Remus, who earned the victory.
The Spartans’ starting pitcher thought she was finished for the day in the top of the sixth with an 8-4 advantage after walking Evergreen Park’s leadoff batter. Emma Chapman came on in relief but had a hard time finding the strike zone, walking the next four Mustangs. The last two forced in runs that cut the Spartans' lead to 8-6.
Remus then returned to the circle and got two quick outs from the first two batters, the first on a sacrifice fly that cut the lead to 8-7. The third batter she faced, Evergreen Park starting pitcher Maddie Vojacek, put the Mustangs back in the lead, 10-8, with a three-run home run to right field. Karly Rickert ended the inning with a ground out.
“I thought we had it wrapped up when we had it 8-4. My pitcher was getting tired so I changed and it didn’t work out so well,” said St. Francis coach Ralph Remus, Maggie's father. "I asked [Maggie] do you have anything left and she said she was OK.”
“Even if I was tired I had to say yes for the team,” said the younger Remus about the conversation in the sixth inning.
The Spartans responded with a rally of their own. Second baseman Amanda Imbrogno’s two-out single, her fourth of the day, scored Janie Smith, who led off with a walk. The inning could have ended on the play.
Smith was caught in a run-down between third and home, when Imbrogno broke for second. Evergreen Park’s catcher threw to second to throw out Imbrogno. The junior was safe and Smith scored. Chapman, who had singled earlier, advanced to third.
Emma Davis followed with a ground ball that was fielded behind second base by the Mustangs’ Megan Pyles. Davis beat the throw to first and Chapman scored the tying run. Imbrogno scored the winning run on an infield single by Carley Pasquale.
“We been scoring all throughout the game and we have been hitting all through the lineup,” coach Remus said. “I don’t like to be down in the sixth inning but I was confident we could put the ball into play.
“A couple of times I thought they could have had plays on runners I sent home but they chose to not to make the play. I don’t know if that was good or bad but I expected a closer play at home on a couple of them.”
The lead had see-sawed between the teams throughout the game.
Evergreen Park (20-14) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. St. Francis responded with three runs in its half of the inning. The Mustangs retook the lead, 4-3 with a three-run second capped by Bethany Salazar’s two-run homer to right.
A three-run rally in the third that started with Smith’s sole home run to center and ended with Davis’ two-run double put St. Francis back in front, 6-4. Davis was 3 for 4 on the day with two singles a double and three RBIs. The Spartans added two more runs in the fifth.
“I knew they were a good hitting team. I knew that they were a little faster than we were, but I thought we could keep up hitting-wise," Evergreen Park coach John O’Connor said. “We hit the ball. They just had a couple of hits that fell through in places that we couldn’t get to them.”
Vojacek, who went 3 for 4 at the plate with a single, double and home run, took the loss.