JOLIET — As the days go by and the amount of teams left in the IHSA Class 3A softball postseason dwindle, Bishop McNamara has continued to pass each test and remain alive.
In Saturday’s IHSA Class 3A Joliet Catholic Sectional championship against third-ranked Ottawa, the most difficult test yet, the Irish passed with flying colors.
Irish coach Laura Harms earned her fourth sectional championship in five years and fifth overall, as Gillian McDermott’s late grand slam helped McNamara pull away and earn an 8-3 victory to keep their championship hopes alive.
Harms, who already has an undefeated season and state championship on her resume, said it’s her teams’ ability to swing the bat from all nine spots in the lineup that makes them special.
“One through nine in the batting order can all hit,” Harms said. “It’s not just one player carrying us, it’s everyone helping each other out and picking each other up. It’s a complete team effort.”
Those bats were on display early when the Irish roughed up Ottawa pitcher and future Kentucky Wildcat Sloan Gayan for a pair of first inning runs, thanks to a two-run double from the red-hot Madi Bylak.
“It was a great opportunity early to drive in a few runs,” Bylak said. “I felt more relaxed than normal and was seeing [Gayan’s] pitches well. I saw my pitch, an outside changeup, and just pushed it out there and put the ball in play.”
After Ottawa Freshman Zoe Harris scored Jenna Nink on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first to cut the lead to 2-1, the Irish struck again in the second inning when Jaelyn Vickery singled to plate Mallory O’Connor to push the lead to 3-1.
Vickery, who was coming off an 0-for-4 effort in Thursday’s sectional semifinal victory against Joliet Catholic, had some familiarity with Gayan, a former travel ball teammate, and used that knowledge to her advantage.
“Last game I struggled at the plate because I wasn’t in attack mode,” Vickery said. “Going in, I understood [Gayan] was talented and throws really hard, so I knew I had to choke up on the bat and wait for my pitch.
“That strategy worked for me today.”
Harms said the rest of the team adjusted just as well as Vickery did to the hard-throwing Ottawa hurler.
“We talked about shortening up to the ball and doing whatever we have to do to make contact,” Harms said. “I told them that once we start making contact, good things will start to happen. Just let the pitcher supply all the power.”
The Irish added another run in the third inning when Kylie Sullivan scored on a sacrifice fly from Kleinert.
While the Irish bats were hot, Vickery was calm and collected on the mound for Bishop MacNamara, pitching five consecutive scoreless innings from the second inning through the sixth to stymie the Pirates offense.
“I kept reminding myself during the game that I wanted it more than Ottawa,” Vickery said. “We wanted it more than Ottawa.”
McDermott put the exclamation point on the game with a bases-clearing grand slam in the top of the sixth inning to extend the lead to 8-1. She said after struggling at the beginning of the game, she made some adjustments during that last at-bat before hitting her round-tripper.
“I was 0 for 3 on the day leading up to the grand slam,” McDermott said. “Ottawa shifted their outfielders to the right because that’s where I hit the ball all day.
“I fouled off a few outside pitches and knew she would throw me something inside next,” she added. “I anticipated the pitch and just got my hands under in time to drive it out.”
For the Irish, McDermott led with the homer and four RBIs. Bylak drove in two runs. Leigha Campe had three hits. Vickery pitched 6 2/3 innings, giving up five hits and two runs. She was also 3 for 3 at the plate with one RBI.
The Irish are back in action at 4:30 p.m. today with a trip to the state finals on the line. They take on Pontiac in the IHSA Class 3A Bloomington Super-Sectional at Illinois Wesleyan University.