DeKALB – Haley Albamonte said she’s been telling her DeKalb softball team it only takes one hit to make a difference.
With the heart of her order 0-for-9 entering the eighth inning – including striking out in order in the sixth – the Barbs proved that Tuesday against Kaneland (17-4 overall, 4-3 Northern Illinois Big 12 East).
Aubrae Lewis hit a walk-off double, scoring Mallory Warner and giving the Barbs a 2-1 win.
We’ve been fighting hard here all season and it finally came together,” said Albamonte, a first-year head coach who was an assistant at Kaneland last year. “What a great time for it to come together.”
Warner, Ashley Nelson and Lewis were each 0 for 3 against Knight’s starter McKenna Ryan – who pitched four shutout innings of no-hit ball – and reliever Emilee Erickson. But Warner started the eighth off with a walk, then Nelson bunted her over to second.
Warner probably would have scored from first as Lewis rocketed a deep fly ball over Olivia Stoker’s head in right and off the fence, scoring Warner with the winner for the Barbs (6-14, 2-5).
“My first at-bats weren’t so good,” said Lewis, who had struck out in the second against Ryan and then in the sixth against Erickson. “I had to pick my own pitch, and make sure I drove it for my team. ‘Cause we really needed it.”
It was the second clutch hit in four days for Lewis, who hit a game-tying double with two outs in the bottom of the seventh Saturday against West Aurora in a game the Barbs would lose, 8-2.
“It’s really just coming up with the approach that I have to do it for my team and not for myself,” Lewis said. “We are one team together. We work well together. I have to do it for them.”
After struggling against Ryan, the Barbs took a 1-0 lead off Erickson in the fifth. Emma Friedlund started with a walk, then pinch-hitter Katie Taylor drove her in with the Barbs’ first hit of the game.
Kaneland coach Mike Kuefler said Ryan was on a strict pitch count. He said he wanted her to get more work in against DeKalb, who was hitting her in a 2-1 win for the Knights earlier in the year.
“She got hit a little bit the last time we faced them, and this is all a process,” Kuefler said. “We wanted her to come back out here and take care of them early on, and she did just that.”
The Knights tied it off Ashley Neslon in the sixth. Donatela Sommesi singled, advanced on a wild pitcher and a fielder’s choice, then scored on a ground out by Hailey Roach.
In the seventh, the Knights had the go-ahead run to third with two outs, but Nelson escaped the jam. She allowed four hits, struck out six and walked one in the win.
“One through nine in their lineup can hit,” Albamonte said. “[Nelson] did a really nice job hitting her spots, staying consistent and not getting rattled when they did good. She was on it. She did a really good job.”
It was the first win for the Barbs against the Knights since 2017, when DeKalb reached the Class 4A State Finals and took fourth.
“It feels really good finally beating Kaneland, especially being my senior year,” Warner said. “Just being with these girls, being behind Ashley, it was just the best feeling.”
By the numbers: Maddie Wheatley had a double for the Knights, the only extra-base hit in the game until Lewis’ walk-off. The Barbs only had three hits in the game, by Lewis, Taylor and Friedlund.
Beyond the stats: Sommesi launched a ball deep to center in the eighth inning, but Rylee Levine made a leaping catch, tumbling down into the fence and holding onto the ball for the out, denying Sommesi what likely would have been at least a triple.
They said it: “I think Ashley Nelson threw a great game, I think coach Haley called a great game, I think our girls were a little off-balance at the plate,” Kuefler said.
Up next: The Barbs head to Morris on Thursday, while the Knights host Sterling on Thursday.