Sunday, June 16, 2024

3A softball: Ottawa strikes early in regional championship win over Morris

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OTTAWA – For the first time in the last half dozen years or so, no one was quite certain what to expect out of the 2024 Ottawa softball team.

As it turns out, more of the same.

Already guaranteed a 20-win season for the seventh straight spring, the Pirates on Saturday pocketed the fourth regional championship in program history – all captured since 2019 under coach Adam Lewis – with a 5-3 triumph over Morris in the Class 3A Ottawa Regional at King Field.

“I actually just told [outgoing athletic director Mike] Coop[er] after the game, this never gets old,” Lewis said. “And definitely, [this excitement] is warranted. We have a lot of kids playing on varsity for the first time, our pitchers, it’s their first time having to be 1A and 1B.

“There are just a lot of different roles this year that took us some time to get settled, but everybody is stepping into their roles, their positions. We’re excited to move forward.”

Ottawa (21-11) advances on to Tuesday’s 4:30 p.m. semifinal of the 3A Lemont Sectional, facing Oak Forest, a 17-0 winner over Thronton Fractional North in Oak Forest’s own regional title game Saturday.

Morris (18-12) – which split the regular-season series with Ottawa and finishes with 18 wins despite having just three seniors on the roster – stranded seven baserunners. The most costly came when the visitors had runners at second and third with no outs in the third and scored no runs and in the fifth when they loaded the bases with no outs and managed just one run.

Also key? Ottawa committing just one ultimately meaningless error despite Morris’ lineup putting the ball in play every at-bat save for its two strikeouts.

“Those little things, they always [decide games],” Morris coach Jennifer Bamonte said. “Ottawa capitalized on some things, but we had some early innings where we could have let it blow up from us, and we didn’t, we shut it down. We did have runners in scoring position almost every single inning, and we just couldn’t make it work.

“Little things, like I said. This was a game of little things like I knew it would be, and they did better little things than we did.”

After starting and winning pitcher Maura Condon (4 2/3 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 1 K) worked a 1-2-3 top of the first Saturday, Pirates leadoff batter Kendall Lowery greeted Morris starter and losing pitcher Tessa Shannon (3 2/3 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 3 BB, 2 K) with a triple to right-center. Ottawa’s Hailey Larsen followed immediately with an RBI double, then scored on a pair of wild pitches to put the Pirates ahead 2-0.

Lowery got her team going in similar fashion in the fourth, launching Morris reliever Elaina Vidales’ (1/3 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 0 K) first offering over the fence in left for a two-run homer that made it 4-0.

Kendall Lowery

“My dad’s always told me that first pitch is probably going to be the best one, and as a leadoff hitter I just feel like the energy comes from the person in front of you sometimes,” Lowery said. “So I had to start it off, I tried my best, and I succeeded starting things off with a good hit, and I feel like everybody followed off that. …

“[The home run], I honestly didn’t know it was out. Whenever I hit the ball, I just put my head down and run. Then I heard everybody yell, and I put my head up and actaully saw some guy trying to catch it, and I was like, ‘Oh, I know it’s out!’ “

Lowery finished 3 for 4 with two RBIs, a double short of the cycle. Larsen added the aforementioned run-scoring double, Bobbi Snook was 2 for 3, Condon doubled, and Mika Moreland singled and scored a run.

Down 4-0, Morris didn’t give up. The visitors got the potential tying run to the plate in both the fifth inning, after Halie Olson drew a bases-loaded walk for the team’s first run, and the seventh when Karson Dranfeldt followed up singles off the bats of Vidales and Shannon with a two-run, slap triple to left.

Both times, though, Pirates reliever Peyton Bryson (2 1/3 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 K) escaped to earn the save for herself and the regional title for Ottawa.

Ottawa’s Aubrey Sullivan (30) flips the ball as Morris baserunner Elaina Vidales tries to escape a rundown Saturday, May 25, 2024, at Ottawa's King Field.

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