CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake Central softball coach Brian Strombom knows that no matter the situation, he can count on his pitching staff, and with a slim lead late in the game against Dundee-Crown on Wednesday, he had to trust his staff again.
"We've got great pitching depth," Strombom said, "so if I want to go to any of our four pitchers, I know they are going to come through for us."
After getting five solid innings of two-run ball from starter Taylor Ward, Strombom went to his bullpen in the sixth and brought in Shannon Ellman to pitch the final two innings with a one-run lead. Strombom watched as the junior closed the door to seal a 3-2 Fox Valley Conference crossover victory for the Tigers.
Ellman struck out the first four batters she faced – all swinging strikeouts— as she struck out the side in the sixth and then the first batter in the seventh.
The Chargers' hitters were late on many of Ellman's pitches, and it was evident when she got some help defensively for the last two outs, both to the right side. She induced a ground ball to second and a popup to first to end the game.
"I don't mind it," Ellman said of pitching during pressure situations, "because either way, I know my teammates are behind me."
The Chargers (3-11 overall, 0-6 FVC Valley) were the first to score after both pitchers cruised through the first three innings.
In the bottom of the fourth, Amanda Eissler lined a double off the left-field wall to put runners on second and third with no outs. The next batter, Mallory Schilf, put down an RBI sacrifice bunt while moving Eissler to third.
Eissler later was thrown out trying to score on a pass ball by catcher Paige Rondeau, ending the scoring threat.
The Tigers (10-4, 5-0 FVC Fox) answered the Chargers in the bottom half of the fourth with three runs. The Tigers loaded the bases via a single, hit-by-pitch and a walk before Ward singled home Ellman to tie the score at 1. Two batters later, Rondeau hit a two-RBI single up the middle.
"I just went up and had confidence and smacked the ball," the catcher said. "I just went up and did my best."
Added Strombom: "She was looking to make an impact offensively today. She has been huge for us defensively and she got those two huge RBIs for us. She deserves it."
The Chargers added one more run in the top of the fifth to close the deficit to 3-2. But that was all they got.
Chargers coach Tracy Beatty said she thought Eissler had one of the best outings she's had all season after handling a tough Tigers lineup. She also liked the way her team played throughout.
"I felt like we put the bat on the ball today, and defensively we played extremely solid," Beatty said. "Fundamentally, we did the right things, and we're coming together at the right time."