PLAINFIELD – When a team is trying to avoid falling way behind in what figures to be a competitive conference race, the last thing they need to have happen to them is to face a big, early deficit against another team that also figures to be the mix for the top spot.
But that’s what happened to Joliet West’s softball team in Monday’s Southwest Prairie Conference game against host Plainfield Central, who scored seven runs in the first inning to grab an early 7-1 advantage.
But the Tigers collected 12 hits in the last six innings and got an excellent relief effort from Sidney Budzinski to not only get back into the contest, but rally for an 8-7 win.
West scored five times in the fifth inning to move in front for good and Budzinski allowed only four hits, while allowing no runs in 61/3 innings to prevent her team from falling three games out in the loss column behind Plainfield East and Plainfield North.
“Plainfield Central came out hitting the ball very well and they were ready to go,” Tigers coach Heather Suca said. “Obviously we struggled defensively. we’ve been having that one bad inning and need to clean it up.
“The way that our team stays up and fought back and chipped away at it in every inning, you can’t ask for anything else from these girls. They’re absolutely down. And Sid came in and really pitched a great game after that, which was huge for her. So give her a ton of credit.”
Things started well enough for the Tigers (10-3, 4-2) as Kristen Ames (2 for 4) doubled to open the game and Kiley Robb (3 for 5) advanced her with an infield hit before DeShonte Smith (two RBIs) drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly.
But in the bottom of the first, the Wildcats used six hits, a walk and an error to score seven runs. After Brooklyn Daly singled in Sara Peterson (2 for 4) to tie things, she put her team in front when she came home on a bases-loaded walk to Alejandra Ochoa.
Jacky Mathews followed with a three-run double to right and Lauren Blaskey (2 for 3) singled to left to make it a 6-1, while Budzinski entered for starter Robb. After Peterson got an RBI single, the new Tigers pitcher retired the next batter.
Budzinski kept the Wildcats hitless in four of the next six frames and although three more runners got as far as third base the rest of the way, none were able to score.
“We wanted this game since last year they got to us pretty good,” Budzinski said. “Not only was it a conference game, but they’re definitely a good team and a good program. A 7-1 lead is definitely big, but or whole attitude this year is that we’re not getting down. No game is too far out of reach, so we had to chip away inning by inning and that’s exactly what we did.
“This year I’m definitely focusing on my mental game so coming into this game down 6-1 was a big challenge. It was a big game for me because I wanted to push past that barrier. Yeah, we were down 7-1 after one inning, but this is a game that we wanted. They definitely have a lot of good hitters and it was a challenge, but me and my defense did what we had to do.”
West got a run in the third off Brooklyn Daly when Ames led off with a double, Karlee Barton (3 for 5, three RBIs) followed with a single and Robb got an RBI sacrifice fly, An inning later, Morgan Gersch (2 for 3) reached on an error and following two hit batters, she scored on a single by Barton.
The Tigers opened the fifth with Smith smashing a homer to left to pull them to with 7-4. Following singles by Budzinski and Gersch, Savana DelRose sacrificed the runners and Budzinski scored on an error on which Tayler Davis reached. Sarah Gersch singled in a run and with two outs, Barton hit into a fielder’s choice to score the go-ahead run.
Central’s best late challenge came in the bottom of the fifth when Maria Connell (2 for 4), Stephanie Weitendorf and Ochoa loaded the bases with no outs. But Budzinski got a strikeout and two grounders to end the threat and retired the side in the next two innings.
“Mentally we just fell apart in that one inning and you just can’t do that against a good team,” Wildcats coach Anne Campbell said. “I kept saying that we had to score some runs since their team would not stop and would battle back.”