CARY – Dana Walsh likes to visualize hitting the ball to the right side of the field before she takes her at-bat.
That way, the McHenry junior believes she will hit the ball up the middle if she focuses on hitting it the opposite way. Walsh, the Warriors' leadoff hitter, certainly focused on the third pitch of the game against Cary-Grove. Despite a brisk wind blowing in from center field, Walsh hit a solo home run to right-center field to give the Warriors a quick lead.
It set the tone for a McHenry team that hadn't played in a week but has found its groove in Fox Valley Conference Valley Division play. The Warriors took advantage of their opportunities en route to a 5-3 FVC Valley win against the Trojans.
"It felt really good off the bat," Walsh said of her first homer of the season. "I had a feeling it was [over the fence], but I was hustling anyways. Warming up, everything was blowing in, so I didn't think I was going to hit one that far."
Tied at 3 in the fifth inning, McHenry (11-5, 5-1 FVC Valley) managed only one hit, yet the Warriors were able to take the lead. Sophomore shortstop Alex Martens hit a one-out double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Another wild pitch allowed Martens to score on a close play at the plate for a 4-3 McHenry lead.
The Warriors tacked on an insurance run in the sixth spurred by a lead-off double by senior Megan O'Donnell. C-G starter Amanda DeGroote got the next batter to fly out, but senior Rachel Ford drove home the run on a single to extend their lead to 5-3. Walsh finished 2 for 4 with two runs scored.
"We haven't touched dirt in over a week," McHenry coach John DiFrancesca said. "So the fact that we took the lead that way gave us the ability to relax a little bit."
Junior pitcher Kristin Koepke took advantage of a generous strike zone to limit the Trojans (11-8, 4-2) to three runs on six hits with nine strikeouts. With the score tied at 3 in the fourth, Koepke worked out of a bases-loaded jam. She gave up two hits and a walk but got two pop ups in the inning. Much to the frustration of C-G, Koepke struck out Lisa Semro looking on a high pitch that appeared to be a ball.
"I loved her focus today," DiFrancesca said of Koepke. "I'm trying to get her to understand to not reveal too many emotions out there on the mound. But I just love the fact when she gets that look in her eye."
The Trojans had plenty of chances throughout the game but left 10 runners on base. The offense showed life early responding to McHenry taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the first on Walsh's homer and Koepke's RBI double by tying the score during their first at-bats.
Amy Clemment walked and Jaime Deering reached on an error to start the bottom of the first. With one out, sophomore Brianne Prank hit a two-run double. However, Koepke retired the next two hitters to preserve the tie. After McHenry regained the lead in the second on Hannah Crowley's two-out RBI double, C-G's offense again came through to tie the score in the third.
Junior catcher Grace Pilz hit a single with two outs to score Deering, who walked to start the third. Despite the lack of opportune hits with runners on base, C-G coach Tammy Olson wasn't upset with her hitters.
"The girls did what they should've done," Olson said. " ... [DeGroote] did a really good job. She started a little slow, a little shaky to start the game giving up the homer right off the bat. But after that I thought she did a tremendous job."