Putlak’s third straight shutout fuels MustangsEvergreen Park's Victoria Senerchia (left) and Michelle Putlak celebrate their win over Joliet Catholic. | Brett Roseman ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 2, 2011 8:28PM
Michelle Putlak, Evergreen Park’s ace, has taken her performance to a new level in the postseason.
After throwing shutouts against Rich East and Kankakee in the regional, the junior strung together her third straight dominant performance Thursday in a Class 3A Oak Forest Class 3A Sectional.
Scattering three hits and striking out five while also knocking in two runs, Putlak put the Mustangs on her back in a 3-1 win over Joliet Catholic.
“I’ve never been to the playoffs before, so this is a new thing,” Putlak said. “It feels really good to be doing so well, and I’m glad we have a good stride going right now.”
Making its first sectional final since the 2003 season, Evergreen Park (21-10) will face host Oak Forest at 11 a.m. Saturday for the sectional title.
Putlak improved to 13-6.
“That’s three games in a row she has pitched just unbelievable,” Evergreen Park coach John O’Connor said. “She gets her curveball over, and she’s hard to hit. She’s growing up right now, and she’s dealing.”
Having shut down the Angels through three innings, Putlak stepped to the plate in the fourth with a chance to aid her cause. With two runners on and two outs, the junior ripped an Ashley Searing offering down the left-field line. Erin Crane scored from second and Sophia Lamb came all the way around from first on Putlak’s double.
The at-bat came after she reached on an error in the first after a lengthy duel with Searing.
“The next time up I figured she was going to give it to me so I was going to give it back,” Putlak said. “It was a nice hit — and I haven’t had a lot of nice hits this year at all.”
Megan Beckow’s RBI double to right-center scored Teresa Ziebarth in the top of the fifth to extend the lead to three runs.
Joliet Catholic (23-13) finally got to the Mustangs ace in the bottom of the fifth on Claire O’Connor’s RBI single to shallow center. The hit would be the last for the Angels.
Putlak struck out Kelly Valencik to end the inning, then retired the side in order in the sixth and seventh with five groundouts and a popout. Evergreen’s defense didn’t commit an error.
“It makes my job really easy,” Putlak said with a smile. “If my defense wasn’t as good as they were, we wouldn’t be here right now. My defense is definitely a big deal.”
Crane finished 2-for-3 for Evergreen.
During the regular season, O’Connor’s squad fell to Oak Forest 4-1 in South Suburban Conference play.
“They’re a great team, and we’ve always had a tough time with them,” O’Connor said. “It’s going to be a battle. I knew if we got this far they’d be waiting, so I’m happy we get to play the best.”