NEW LENOX – On a windy day where a lot of balls that went into the air proved to be challenging for fielders, Lincoln-Way Central's softball team hosted Joliet Catholic Academy on Friday in a game that featured two teams who are both off to successful starts.
The Knights scored twice in the first and added a run in the second before the Angels closed to within 3-2 in the third. But Central starter Ashley Platek settled down, and the hosts used a five-run sixth inning to finally end the drama as they claimed an 8-3 nonconference victory.
Coach Jeff Tarala's Knights improved to 18-2 after winning their 12th-straight game. Their last loss came April 6 in the semifinals of the WJOL Tournament when Lockport overcame a 7-3 deficit by scoring four runs in the fourth inning and another run in the sixth to win, 8-7.
Central will join the likes of Joliet West, Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way West, Lockport, Plainfield South and Providence Catholic in the Class 4A Thornwood Sectional, which figures to be one of the state's toughest sectionals. The combined records for those squads through Friday is 104-34, which is good for a .754 winning percentage.
With their only other loss coming against Marist in their sixth game, the Knights are hoping that they can earn a trip to the state finals for the first time since 2008, when coach Dick Mandella's team beat Barrington, 4-1, to capture the school's only state championship. Central went 27-4 last season and fell in the sectional semifinals in both 2015 and 2017.
"All of these games are important, and JCA is a quality team that's done really good things," Tarala said. "Ashley did a really good job. It was a tough day to pitch, and she did a good job of battling through. I thought our fielders, minus the popups, did a good job of picking up the ball. And Carly (Alvers) came up with the big hit late in the game, and that was huge."
Platek tossed a complete-game six-hitter in which she allowed three runs while striking out four batters to improve to 6-0. Understandably, the right-hander, who also scored two runs, was very pleased that her team gave her run support both early and late thanks to timely hitting and aggressive baserunning, while her defense also made some very good plays.
"It seems like the winds here kind of take the ball sometimes," Platek said. "But we have a good defense, so I knew that they would make plays. And on this team, we always pick each other up. Our coaches influence us, and they want us to have a great time and to have a good time, and we play better since we want to be here."
Central's Carly Alvers had a great game, going 2 for 3 while driving in four runs, with most of those coming on a three-run blast in the sixth inning to lead a 14-hit attack. This was the ninth time in its winning streak that it collected nine or more hits and it's averaged 11.5 hits during the past 12 games.
"They're a good team, but we knew that we had Ashley pitching," Alvers said. "We know that everyone in our lineup can hit, and that helps all of us, and everybody is comfortable. The home run felt good, and right when I hit the ball, I knew that it was gone, and I was just so excited. We're just such a fun team, and it's fun to be around these girls every single day."
Other leaders for the Knights were Gabriella Gedville (3 for 4, two runs, RBI), Gianna Niemeier (2 for 4, RBI) and Amanda Weyh (2 for 4, RBI).
Coach Tina Kinsella's Angels (12-7), who lost, 6-0, to the Knights in the third-place game at the WJOL Tournament, got home runs from Jen Krizka (2 for 3, two RBIs), who hit a two-run homer in the third, and Hannah Antzoulatos, who got a solo shot in the seventh.