Softball: Grayslake North stuns Prairie Ridge for school’s first sectional title

Story Image Lake Villa, IL 6/2/12 Grayslake North defeated Prairie Ridge 2-1 to take the 3A softball sectional title. Grayslake North's Kristie Gandy (24) pitches in the sixth inning. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
Story Image

Updated: June 2, 2012 7:54PM

On a day filled with important moments, the most important probably occurred after Grayslake North stunned Prairie Ridge 2-1 Saturday to win the Class 3A Lakes Sectional title hosted by Lakes and earn a spot in the supersectionals (Tuesday at NIU) for the first time in school history.

Several Prairie Ridge fans made this observation as they carried their lawn chairs back to the car after the final out was made:

If Grayslake North can play defensively on Tuesday the way it did on Saturday, it can beat the softball empire that is Marengo and go on to win the state championship that Marengo won last year.

In 2011, Marengo flattened Grayslake North 7-0 at the sectional-final level en route to winning state.

This time, the clubs likely will meet in the Round of 8 (Marengo still must beat Sterling on Monday) with the winners advancing to the state semifinals in East Peoria and the losers joining their club-travel teams for the summer.

Memo: Do not give Marengo that state-championship trophy just yet.

For Grayslake North, the game on Saturday was softball’s version of a perfect storm: Kristi Gandy pitched well enough to win; the defense made a big play in every crucial spot; sophomore designated hitter Nikki Livengood did what a DH is supposed to do — hit.

And that was a good thing because Grayslake North batted in six innings and Prairie Ridge junior lefty Kirsten Stevens fanned 15 — including four (batter reach on a dropped third strike) in the sixth frame.

In the second, Livengood had a double and eventually scored on Christina Freese’s bloop single to right.

After the Wolves tied the game at 1-1, Livengood’s two-out single in the bottom of the third scored Kelsey Borders, who had walked and then advanced an infield out.

Gandy and the Knights’ defense did the rest. Prairie Ridge had 11 batters reach base in seven innings and scored once.

The moment of truth came in the top of the sixth when, with two out and pinch-runner Erin Wing at second, Grace Jamieson lined a hit into left field.

Prairie Ridge coach Mike Buck was waving Wing home all the way and Knights senior left-fielder Courtney Peterson fired the ball home.

The throw was on target and had Wing beat by 20 feet, but because it bounced in, senior catcher Brooke Tracy had trouble fielding it cleanly.

Instead, she grabbed the ball in her throwing hand and tagged Wing with both the ball and her empty mitt as Wing tried to run around Tracy behind home plate.

Prairie Ridge coaches argued that Tracy tagged the runner with an empty mitt, but the ump ruled the senior also got her with the ball.

“I knew Courtney was going to get to the ball with plenty of time,” Tracy said. “She always makes strong throws to home. I just wanted to make sure that I was in front of the plate so she couldn’t slide past me. I didn’t get it all the way into my glove. I picked it up with my bare hand and turned around and tagged her with the glove and the ball.

“The ball touched her, so she was out. I didn’t think it was even a question.”

Grayslake North coach Molly Jones joked that on the decisive play, “I don’t think I was breathing.

“I’m really proud of Courtney (Peterson) for coming out and earning that starting position her senior year. I knew it had to be a good throw, but I was confident she could make it.”

And that wasn’t the end of the key defensive plays.

In the top of the seventh, Gandy walked the leadoff hitter. The next hitter put down a bunt, and Grayslake third baseman Kelsey Borders picked up the ball and fired to shortstop Jordyn Bowen at second for the force.

The next hitter grounded to Freese and first and she fired to Bowen to get another force at second and keep the tying run out of scoring position.

Borders then caught a foul pop near third base to trigger a celebration that can be duplicated but not topped with a win on Tuesday.

This was the school’s first sectional title in any sport involving a ball (cheerleading won sectionals in 2009 and 2010).

“It’s very satisfying. I’m just so proud of them,” said Jones. “At the start of the season, I asked them, ‘What do we want our goals to be this year?’ The first thing they said was, ‘state!’

“I was like, ‘OK, let’s slow down a little bit,’” she laughed. “So we started setting goals for non-conference games, then conference games, then regionals, and now sectionals. It’s a great feeling.”

Grayslake North (25-8-1) has won eight straight and is 19-2 since going 1-2 in a three-game round-robin tournament held at Lakes on April 14 that put them at 6-6-1 on the year..

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