JOLIET — Many people across the state Monday saw the saying, “When it rains, it pours,” come in a literal sense, but Beecher’s softball team used that saying in the most figurative of ways.
After both the Bobcats and Aurora Central Catholic suffered severe scoring droughts for the first seven innings of Monday’s IHSA Class 2A Joliet Super-Sectional, Beecher opened the floodgates with a seven-run downpour in the eighth inning to down the Chargers 7-0 and advance to its third straight IHSA State Finals.
“They’re all business; this is their goal at the beginning of the year,” Bobcats coach Kevin Hayhurst said of his team. “It’s not to win conference. ... Everything we do is to play well at the postseason tournament, and it’s been working.”
The Bobcats had a few chances to score early on, but Chargers pitcher Dani Brown shut the door each time, stranding a Bobcat in scoring position in each of the first three innings.
That’s when Beecher pitcher Kayla Hon, who threw a no-hitter in last week’s sectional championship against Reed-Custer, said she knew she was in for a pitcher’s duel with Brown.
“I think after the third inning, when we were getting runners on but couldn’t score, I knew it was going to be back and forth and come down to the last minute,” Hon said.
Hon held up her end of the bargain, as the senior right-hander threw a two-hit shutout to increase her streak to 29 innings in the circle without allowing an earned run.
Hayhurst said his ace has shown during the past two seasons, which resulted in a state title and a second place finish, that she can be counted when it matters most, which has resulted in a state title and a second-place finish.
“She’s pitched us to first place, and she’s pitched us to second place,” Hayhurst said. “That’s a girl who knows how to win and how to make the ball move.
“When she’s on the mound, it’s awfully tough to score runs against her.”
There were a few tense moments in the bottom of the seventh, however, as the Chargers opened the inning with a bloop single that landed just inside the chalk past first base. They eventually had a pair on with one out before Hon made her two biggest outs of the season — a pop-up to third baseman Ellie Lee and flyout to centerfielder Margaret Landis.
Hon’s catcher, A.J. Picicco, never had any doubt about her pitcher’s ability to escape the brief jam.
“Kayla just does everything so well,” Picicco said. “She’s always so focused and nothing bothers her.”
The Bobcats’ best came in the eighth inning, when they erupted for seven runs in the extra frame that was started by two other integral senior leaders.
Lee opened the inning with a solid single, followed by a double from Picicco. After an intentional walk to Karly Bainbridge, Alyssa Oldenburg drew a bases-loaded walk to score the first run.
The Bobcats rolled through the order, allowing Lee and Picicco to come to bat again. Lee drove in a run when she was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Picicco followed with a two-run single.
Before the eighth, the pair had combined to go 0 for 5 with a pair of strikeouts but were able to shine when it was needed most.
“I just think that we’re always staying up in the dugout, all my coaches and all my teammates believe in me — there’s lots of pep talks going on,” Picicco said. “I was feeling pretty down, but I’m just glad I pulled it together at the end and that everyone pulled it together at the end.”
Hayhurst said that the late-inning heroics from his senior leaders is exactly what he expected.
“You always look for the seniors to show that way for the younger kids coming up,” Hayhurst said. “It was any way we could get on base — walks, getting hit by a pitch, staying in on the ball.”
For Hon, the offensive explosion gave her a much different experience in the circle in the bottom of the eighth than she faced in the seventh.
“It was super crazy in that seventh inning, knowing if [the Chargers] scored, they would win,” Hon said. “That was intense, and then after we broke through in that last inning, we came back out [to the field] confident knowing we had such a big lead.”
After Hon allowed the first two batters to reach base in the eighth, she sandwiched a strikeout with a pair of lineouts to send the Bobcats back to Peoria.
“There are no words to describe how great it is to be able to win and keep winning,” said Landis, who has now been a state finalist in each of her three years. “I think my team does a really good job of backing each other up and keeping each other up to stay where we are.”
Hon piled up 13 strikeouts as opposed to her two hits and four walks in the extended shutout.
Picicco and fellow senior Chandler Claus each had a double as one of their two hits, and Picicco added two RBIs. Landis and Christina Lorenzatti each had two hits and a run, and Landis also drove in a pair. Faith Curran had two hits and an RBI.
The Bobcats will look to secure three straight championship-game appearances when they take on Rockridge at 3 p.m. Friday at the Eastside Centre in Peoria in the IHSA Class 2A State Semifinal, a rematch of last year’s title game, which the Rockets won 5-2.