MANTENO – Every once in a while, you see a game as a reporter that time and space in the paper don’t let you tell the whole story. Tuesday was such a day, when the Morris softball team advanced to the Class 3A Manteno Sectional final after a 2-1 win over Tinley Park.
How can a 2-1 game have much of a story? Easy, if you saw this one. Although there were only three runs scored, there was probably more excitement packed into the final two innings alone than your typical softball game.
First off, these were two good teams on the field. Tinley Park took third in Class 3A last season, and Morris started this season with 15 wins in its first 16 games. That doesn’t happen by accident.
When you put two good teams on the field, every inning and pretty much every at-bat is precious. Mistakes are going to be at a minimum, so you better be ready to jump on them if, and when, they happen. More often than not, a mistake will lead to a run. And a run in a game like this is like five runs in any other game.
Start with Morris pitcher Abby Burns, a freshman who owns the circle like a seasoned veteran. Unflappable is a good word for her. If she gives up a hit or a walk, she shakes it off and goes about her business to the next hitter. She served notice early to Tinley Park that she wasn’t going to be intimidated.
The Titans were making a lot of noise in their dugout from the start, ranging from unintelligible gibberish to lifting a chorus from 2 Live Crew. For those of you too young to remember the Crew, let’s just say that it’s not appropriate for younger ears.
The noise got louder in the bottom of the first when Tinley Park had runners on first and second with one out. Burns’ response? Strike out the Nos. 4 and 5, starting a string in which she retired 11 of the next 13 batters. That will quiet just about any dugout.
The catch by Kellen Bernickus was just what the doctor ordered, too. In the bottom of the third, Tinley’s Sam Alberto caught hold of a Burns offering and sent it to left. It caught the jet stream of wind blowing in that direction, and Bernickus kept running after it. Had the Manteno field been 200 feet down the line instead of 205, Morris might have been chasing the lead from that moment on. As it stood, Bernickus reached up a long arm and caught the ball before it could go over the fence.
It should come as no surprise that play gave the Redskins a boost, as they scored in the top of the fourth. With one out, Alex Cook reached on an error and was replaced by freshman Jasmine Cook. Emily Moore reached on an error, putting runners on first and second. Burns then hit a 1-1 pitch into left-center for a double, plating Jasmine Cook, and the fans on the Morris side began counting outs.
Tinley Park, however, wasn’t done either. It got a leadoff single and a stolen base from Alberto in the sixth. Titans pitcher and cleanup hitter Annalisse Scott singled up the middle to score Alberto with the tying run. The next batter lined a shot toward right, but Morris second baseman Taya Torkelson snared it and threw to Alex Cook at first to double off Scott. After a popup to third, Morris went back to work with the bats.
Leah Lines singled, was bunted to second by Bernickus and scored on a single by No. 9 hitter Kelly Kolotka. That’s a run manufactured by the bottom of the lineup on a day when runs were at a premium. That’s what winning teams do, and it seems like the Redskins who started 15-1 are back. They’ll get another chance to prove it Saturday, when they play for their first sectional title since 1998 at 11 a.m. against Manteno.