NEW LENOX – With a team featuring several individuals who were switching programs as well as a number of younger players, Lincoln-Way Central softball coach Jeff Tarala figured that it might take his team a little while to put things together.
But although the Knights played in just their 13th game of the season on Tuesday, they already appear to be headed in the right direction.
Central improved to 10-3 overall and 3-0 in the SouthWest Suburban Conference Red Division after beating rival Lincoln-Way West, 3-1, at the Lincoln Highway campus.
The Knights, who’ve only lost to Joliet West, Lockport and Marist so far, scored single runs in the second and third innings to grab a quick 2-0 lead over the Warriors (7-9, 2-1), who picked up their lone run in the fourth. Central later added a big insurance tally in the sixth inning.
Ashley Platek picked up the victory after allowing six hits and no earned runs while striking out six in seven innings. Brittany Schultz (2 for 3) and Platek both hit home runs while Lillian Vellenga drove in the other run for the hosts.
“Ashley pitched amazing today against a very good lineup in Lincoln-Way West, but she’s been fantastic all year,” Tarala said. “She’s also been great hitting the ball and is a big part of our team. Our three losses have come against some very good teams and in those games, minus the Joliet West, we were close.
“This is a very young team, for the most part. There’s four sophomores out there playing and they’re growing and learning every single day. The girls work hard and probably the thing that stands out the most about this team is their versatility. That allows them to do a lot of other things on the field, so it opens up a lot of options for the coaches.”
Coach Heather Novak’s Warriors got off to a 1-6 start this season but have gone 6-3 since. They’re also young but obviously have been making significant progress of late.
West also received a nice pitching performance on Tuesday as starter Dani Callahan also yielded six hits and struck out six during her six innings of work.
“We have gotten better throughout the season, but when we get opportunities to score, we definitely have to put the ball in play and make things happen and we left way too many baserunners on today,” Novak said.
“We’re young and we’re going to keep working hard and getting better. Danielle is definitely making some strides on the mound and we’ve being doing a great job of playing defense. We’ve already seen improvement and we’ll keep growing as a team.”
The Knights moved in front for good in the second inning when Amanda Weyh led off with a double and then came home on a two-out single by Vellenga. In the next frame, they went up 2-0 when Platek smacked a two-out home run to left.
“It just too a little time to get used to everybody’s strengths and weaknesses and what we need to work on, but we’re coming together as a team,” Weyh said. “We’ve put in hard work and always pick each other up. I’m glad that we communicate well. We bonded quickly because we knew that we couldn’t do anything about this change so we’re making the best of it this season. We just need to play as one and go out there and give it our all.”
West picked up its only run in the fourth when Callahan led off with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice by Sydney Swanberg and came home on a hard shot that went for an error.
After Central couldn’t capitalize on a leadoff double by Brittany Schultz in the bottom of the fourth, the Warriors threatened again in the fifth with two-out singles from Abby Baez (2-for-4) and Mac Mahy. They were back at it in the sixth, getting Swanberg and third and Molly Ryan to first with no outs but Platek got two strikeouts and a grounder.
Schultz provided a little breathing room when she belted a two-out solo shot to center to close out the scoring. Platek retired the side in the seventh inning, with two grounders surrounding a nice running catch toward the center field fence by Paige Sanders.
“With about half the team coming over from East, everybody was a little nervous at first with the change, but the transition has gone really well,” Sanders said. “We just bonded super quickly and there were no problems and that was really nice to see. The best qualities of our team are that we always have each others back and are always cheering each other on.”