McHenry inches closer to FVC Valley title

McHENRY – McHenry senior Rachel Ford isn’t a prototypical No. 9 hitter.

Warriors coach John DiFrancesca doesn’t expect Ford to bunt or sacrifice herself when she comes to bat. Instead, Ford is relied on to turn over the lineup and drive in runs. She gave McHenry’s offense a big jolt Monday against Huntley.

McHenry hit two home runs in the bottom of the fifth, including a two-run homer by Ford, and it was all the offense the Warriors needed en route to a 3-1 Fox Valley Conference Valley Division win against Huntley. McHenry (16-6 overall, 8-2 FVC Valley) can clinch a share of the division title with a win Friday against Jacobs.

“I love the fact that, honestly, we don’t have a lot of holes in our lineup,” DiFrancesca said. “Today was a great battle. ... It gives us that opportunity that if the first five (hitters) aren’t hot, OK next.”

McHenry sophomore Amanda Manssen led off the fifth with a solo homer to left field on a 2-1 pitch from Huntley freshman starting pitcher Kateri Conklin (5-5). Three batters later, Ford stepped to the plate with one out and a runner on first, who reached on a Huntley error.

Ahead in the count 3-1, Ford connected on a high outside pitch for a two-run homer that landed in nearly the same spot as Manssen’s over the left field fence.

It was the third homer of the season and second against Huntley for Ford, who typically hits third for her travel team.

“[DiFrancesca] considers me a power hitter so he puts me down there to shock people like that, I guess,” Ford said with a laugh. “It felt really good off the bat. You get that pitch and you take it.”

The Warriors were fortunate the long balls left the park. A brisk wind blowing in from left field, courtesy of an approaching thunderstorm, knocked down some balls hit that way earlier in the game.

Huntley (14-11, 5-3) had plenty of chances to pull out the win. The Red Raiders left seven runners on base between the second and fifth innings. Their lone run came on a sacrifice bunt that scored Katelyn Behrens, who beat the throw home after McHenry got the out at first.

Right before McHenry took the lead in the bottom of the fifth, the Red Raiders loaded the bases in the top half of the inning. But McHenry starting pitcher Kristin Koepke (13-6) got a strikeout looking to escape the jam.

The Warriors’ defense helped Koepke, too. Twice junior center fielder Dana Walsh threw out a Huntley base runner at home to complete double plays keeping the game scoreless. The Red Raiders had three singles in the second, but the inning ended when Walsh threw out Haley Spannraft at home on Tamara Funke’s single.

Huntley put two on with nobody out in the fourth, but again Walsh’s arm shined. She caught a fly ball for the first out and then delivered another laser throw home to nail Megan Larson at the plate for the second out.

“It’s one of those days we couldn’t string the extra [hit] together,” Huntley coach Mark Petryniac said. “I’m proud of their effort today, especially after how we’ve played the last couple of days. Score wasn’t in our favor, but I was very proud of how both teams played today.”