Over the last month of the softball season, Breanna Baer and her teammates thrived on drama.
Baer and the rest of the Rock Valley College squad showed plenty of flair, winning four one-run games in the postseason on the way to winning the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III national championship.
“For some reason, we always made our games really exciting,” said Baer, a Johnsburg graduate who was the team’s starting designated player.
Baer, a freshman who batted .342 this season, played her part in the dramatic finishes.
In the team’s Region IV championship game May 3 against College of DuPage, Baer’s seventh-inning double drove in the tying and winning runs in an 8-7 victory that sent the team to the national tournament in Rochester, Minnesota.
Against Rochester Community and Technical College in the NJCAA’s opening round, Baer delivered a game-tying double in the seventh inning of another 8-7 victory for the third-seeded Golden Eagles.
“When we need to get runners in, I felt clutch in that area,” said Baer, who drove in 36 runs and had five home runs for Rock Valley (42-9).
Rock Valley’s unbeaten run at nationals continued with a 2-0 win against second-seeded Herkimer County Community College of New York and a 2-1 triumph over top-seeded Brookdale Community College from New Jersey.
In the May 17 championship game, a rematch with Herkimer, Rock Valley pulled off a 2-1 victory and its first national title in softball.
“I told them the only thing that matters is if you have one more run than the other team,” Rock Valley coach Darin Monroe said. “They kind of took that to an extreme in the tournament.”
Baer provided plenty of pop in a deep Rock Valley lineup.
Monroe said he regularly put Baer in the No. 6 spot in the order behind NJCAA All-Americans Danielle Walker, who hit .503 as the team’s shortstop, and Kaytee Keefe, who batted .462 while playing first base.
“She brought depth to our lineup,” Monroe said of Baer. “She made us dangerous because she was hitting after two All-Americans in our lineup. Teams knew about her power, so they had to pitch to Danielle and Kaytee.”
Monroe credited Baer with improvements on and off the field throughout the season.
“She really matured throughout the year, not just athletically, but academically and socially,” Monroe said. “I think she’ll continue to do that.”
“I feel a lot more mentally strong,” Baer said.
Along with her personal growth came an expanded knowledge of how to handle different pitchers and hitting in various game situations.
“In high school, I just went up there and swung the bat,” she said. “I feel like now I’m a lot more focused on the game.”
Missouri Valley monster Kaczmarski: Prairie Ridge grad Kevin Kaczmarski was named this spring to the All-Missouri Valley Conference first team and All-Defensive teams in baseball.
A junior outfielder at Evansville University, Kaczmarski guided the team to the MVC regular-season championship, thanks to his team-leading .315 batting average, 19 doubles and 50 RBIs. He also led the Aces (34-21) with a .502 slugging percentage and five triples.
As the team’s center fielder, Kaczmarski posted a .992 fielding percentage and made only one error while starting all 55 games for Evansville.
NAIA standout D'Angelo: McHenry West grad Laura D’Angelo earned NAIA All-American honors May 24 as a member of Olivet Nazarene University’s 4x400-meter relay team.
D’Angelo, the only freshman on the relay squad, ran the third leg and helped ONU place sixth in 3:49.65.
ONU finished 12th in the team standings out of 51 teams at the event in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Kittle claims honors: D-III Anderson (Indiana) University junior Max Kittle earned All-America honors at the NCAA championships in Geneva, Ohio, finishing eighth in the 400-meter hurdles in 52.89 seconds.
Kittle’s outdoor season also was highlighted by winning the MVP award among track events at the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference meet last month. He won the 100 (14.76) and 400 (52.51) hurdles events. His 400 hurdles time set a league record and ranks as the fourth-fastest time in school history.
At the HCAC meet, Kittle also was a member of the school’s victorious 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams.
Warhawks winner Hansen: Jacobs grad Maggie Hansen was part of a Wisconsin-Whitewater softball team that finished third in the nation last weekend at the NCAA D-III championships in Tyler, Texas.
Hansen, a sophomore infielder, played in 20 games this season, starting one.
The Warhawks set a school record for hits (500) this season, and their win total ranked second in program history. The team’s 297 runs this season is the third-highest single-season total.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.