ALGONQUIN – McHenry couldn't find a way to end its fifth-inning nightmare.
The Warriors were in control of Tuesday's Class 4A Jacobs Sectional semifinal softball game against DeKalb, seizing a 4-0 lead they carried into the bottom of the fifth.
That's when everything fell apart for McHenry. For a McHenry defense that had been strong all season, including through the first four innings, it was an error to start the fifth that gave the Barbs life.
The error started a streak of seven consecutive DeKalb hitters to reach base, sparking a seven-run rally that ultimately saw 12 Barbs bat in the inning. McHenry couldn't recover from the inning as DeKalb went on to win, 8-4, to advance to Saturday's sectional final.
"We couldn't get three outs," McHenry coach John DiFrancesca said. "I thought we played so well and then, for whatever reason, everything collapsed in that inning and we couldn't keep it together.
"If this were golf I'd be crying for a mulligan in the fifth inning."
The middle of the lineup for DeKalb (27-7) came through with clutch hits in the fifth. No. 3 hitter Morgan Newport hit a two-run double off McHenry starting pitcher Kristin Koepke to tie the score at 4. Sarah Friedlund followed with a three-run homer to put the Barbs ahead, 7-4.
The error to start the fifth didn't deserve all the blame for McHenry's fifth-inning woes. Instead, DiFrancesca described it as a "total malfunction." DeKalb added another run in the sixth to extend its lead to 8-4.
McHenry (24-10-1) tried to rally in the top of the seventh, putting runners on the corners with two outs. But Koepke's hard-hit liner to third was caught to end the game.
"They were good and had slaps in the right spots," Koepke said of the Barbs' fifth. "It was Slapping 101. They did it and executed."
Koepke delivered a great performance at the plate, falling a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. She hit a two-out solo home run in the first inning on the first pitch she saw from DeKalb starting pitcher Katie Kowalski. Alex Martens followed with a double and later scored on a Barbs error for a 2-0 McHenry lead.
The Warriors scored two more runs in the third for a 4-0 lead. Koepke drove in another run on an RBI double, and Carly Mattson singled to score Koepke. A potential big inning was shut down, however, when McHenry was called for batter interference.
Instead of having runners on second and third with one out, the umpire ruled the Warriors' hitter blocked the throw to third by the Barbs' catcher. It forced Martens, who was on third, to be ruled out for the second out of the inning. McHenry didn't score another run against Kowalski, who seemed to get better as the game progressed.
Despite winning three consecutive regional titles, capturing a sectional title remains elusive for the Warriors. But McHenry returns all but four players next season with the lineup still featuring Koepke, Martens and Mattson.
"I'm so proud of us for winning conference and winning regionals," Martens said. "We did so much still, and it was a really great game. I think we battled and ended the season well."