MANTENO – As the postseason goes on and games gain significance, the manner in which they are won is not important. The fact that they are won is what is important.
Morris' softball team picked up its second straight 2-1 win Tuesday, beating Tinley Park in the semifinals of the Class 3A Manteno Sectional. The Redskins (21-8) will take on the winner of today's Manteno-Peotone game in the final at 11 a.m. Saturday.
In games as close as this one was, every little play can be scrutinized and dissected. Here's a few of the biggest: In the bottom of the seventh, after Morris took a 2-1 lead, Redskin catcher Emily Moore made a diving catch in foul territory between first and home on a popped up bunt by Tinley Park's Lauren Buckwalter. It exemplified Morris' desire to go all-out in order to get the win.
In the bottom of the sixth, Tinley Park had rallied to score a run and tie the game with no outs and a runner on first. The next Titan batter hit a liner toward right field, but Morris second baseman Taya Torkelson caught it and threw to first for a double play, erasing the runner and keeping Morris from being down a run in the top of the seventh.
In the top of the seventh, Morris scored a textbook run. Leah Lines led off with a single to right and was sacrificed to second by Kellen Bernickus. Kelly Kolotka, the Redskins' No. 9 hitter, hit the first pitch up the middle to score Lines, and make it, 2-1.
"I was having a little panic attack before I went up to hit," Kolotka said. "[Assistant] Coach [Jen] Bamonte told me to just relax and breathe. I got really lucky with the pitch I got, and just hit it hard and put it in play.
"Our defense had faith that we would hold them after that. It was the same score as our last game [a 2-1 win over Ottawa in the regional final last Saturday.] I would like a few more insurance runs, but we'll take it."
The biggest play of the game, however, was in the bottom of the third, when the game was still scoreless. With two outs, Tinley's Sam Alberto hit a fly ball that rode the wind blowing out to left field. Morris' Bernickus kept running back, finally reaching up to catch it just before it got to the fence – her glove well above the fence line – robbing Alberto of a homer and Tinley Park of the lead.
"Kellen showed just how natural an outfielder she is," Morris coach Jen Lowery said. "She went back after that thing, it looked like, without a care in the world. She just went back and got it.
"The girls were just so positive all day. They are positive all the time, but they really had an extra spark [Tuesday]."
Morris freshman pitcher Abby Burns answered every tough situation with an even tougher pitch, and helped herself at the plate by hitting an RBI double in the top of the fourth.
"Kellen saved us big time," Burns said. "It makes it a lot easier to pitch when you know your teammates are going to catch everything. We got a lot of hits [Tuesday] and our hitters hit well, but we just didn't get them all right together. That double play in the sixth inning really helped, too."
Burns allowed just five hits and struck out seven against three walks.
"Abby threw well," Lowery said. "She really hit her spots when she needed to. All of our games are going to be close from here on out. Timely hits, executing on defense and solid pitching will be what wins games, and we did all of that [Tuesday].
"Our girls left it all on the field, and that's what we have to keep doing every game."