Softball: Bartlett, Jacobs eyeing downstate berths
By Gene Chamberlain For Sun-Times Media June 3, 2012 5:50PM
Bartlett's Sydney Johnson (1) and Tori Burke react after their sectional victory over West Chicago. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 7, 2012 8:13AM
The fact Bartlett and Jacobs sit a single win from downstate berths in the Class 4A state semifinals testifies to the fact that in softball, above all else it’s best to have the hot pitcher in postseason.
Jacobs, which plays at Judson University against Elk Grove on Monday night in the supersectional, is the only Class 4A team to have made it through sectionals without allowing a postseason run.
Bartlett, which plays at 4:30 Monday at the “The Ballpark” in Des Plaines against Maine West, has allowed the second-fewest runs of the remaining eight teams (one run) thanks to four straight victories from pitcher Tori Burke.
“She’s so good in key situations,” Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said of Burke, who has struck out 42 in four postseason victories while allowing only 13 hits. She hasn’t given up a run for 24 innings while sticking with her arsenal of changing speed, locations and pitch types.
Burke (19-6) called her pitching at least as much mental as physical.
“With pitching, it’s such a mental game,” Burke said. “I have to make sure I’m focused and if one bad call comes I have to make sure I execute the next play and don’t let the umpires influence how we play the game or the outcome of it.”
Jacobs’ last three shutout victories came from Katie Kirker after McKayla Lein started postseason with a five-hit shutout of Crystal Lake South. Kirker has picked exactly the right time to resume full-time pitching after two knee surgeries deprived her of playing her sophomore and junior seasons, and pitching most of this season.
She’ll get the chance to pitch at the field where she’ll be playing next year for Judson University.
“It’s so exciting to go this far my senior year when we weren’t expected to do much,” said Kirker, who is 6-1 on the year. “It really shows how our team has come together and overcome the odds. It just speaks a lot about or team and our perseverance.”
At Des Plaines, Bartlett (30-8) seeks its first downstate trip since making the Class AA quarterfinals in 2007. The Hawks have played Maine West (27-10) before and Burke got the victory in a 13-0, five-inning rout April 27 at the Rolling Meadows tournament. Nevertheless, Hawks coach Jim Wolfsmith doubts his players will have to conquer overconfidence.
“It was just one of those games where we were on our game and they just weren’t,” Wolfsmith said.
Playing in a big venue like the Bandits’ home stadium can do in some teams, but Wolfsmith doubts his Hawks will come in starry-eyed.
“We’ve played at big stages before,” he said. “We played at a real nice stage at Ohio against the third-ranked team in the country, Keystone, and played a good game against them (5-1 loss).
“I’m not worried. These girls play without fear, every one of them, every single one of them that we put in the game.”
As an example, he pointed to senior Stephanie Tomazin, who has been a backup while fighting back from injury but was called upon at sectionals twice to pinch hit. She produced two pinch singles, and her hit in the title game eventually led to the game’s only run.
“We’re ready to win,” said Hawks left fielder Alex Morales.
It was Tomazin who was the hitting star in the earlier Hawks win over Maine West with a homer and 3-for-3 effort.
Maine West beat New Trier to win its sectional and is led by fastball pitcher Ariel Smolik-Valles and all-around athlete and hitting star Katie Fitzgerald, who is headed to St. Cloud on an ice hockey scholarship. She plays goalie for the Chicago Mission, a women’s AAA team. Maine West’s entire offense has been dominant in postseason. The only time Maine West was held to less than eight runs was the 4-2 sectional title triumph over New Trier.
At Judson, Jacobs (25-14) faces by far its most severe test of the postseason in trying to beat Elk Grove (30-8) and hard-throwing, Michigan State-bound right-hander Dani Goranson. Last year Goranson (25-7) and Elk Grove appeared headed for state before being derailed in extra innings by Amanda Ciran and St. Charles North in the sectional title game.
The Grenadiers may have won the strongest sectional in the state, one that had four powerful Mid-Suburban League teams in it. Jacobs played six games against MSL opponents this season, winning three.
Besides relying on Kirker’s ball movement and pitch variety, Jacobs has stuck with an offensive philosophy that has carried it well through the tournament.
“It’s kind of our practiced method,” coach Jeremy Bauer said. “We’re aggressive early, and if (the opponent) makes a few plays, then you back off on it.
“We’ve been fortunate that when we’re real aggressive early it’s paid off to give us those couple of runs that we need.
“And then Katie does the rest.”
The Jacobs-Elk Grove game is set to start half an hour after the completion of the Class 3A supersectional at Judson between Elmwood Park and Glenbard South, which begins at 4:30 p.m.
Erik Jacobsen contributed