CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake South didn't have a hit against Huntley's Briana Bower when junior Kyra Swartz came up to bat for the second time with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Unable to lay down a bunt on the previous pitch against Bower, Swartz looked to Gators coach Scott Busam beyond third base and was surprised by his call for another bunt on a 1-2 count.
"At first I thought he called the wrong thing," South's No. 9 hitter said. "But I just knew I had to get it down."
Swartz got the bunt down in front of home plate and beat catcher Sofia Tenuta's throw to first for her team's first hit. The bunt hit was the start of a late rally for the Gators, who scored four runs on four hits to take the lead for good in a 4-3 Fox Valley Conference win Tuesday.
Alexis Pupillo had a one-out base hit to score Swartz, Christina Toniolo came through with a two-run, two-out double off the bottom of the center-field fence, and Baylee Kassel drove in South's fourth run on a single up the middle.
But it was Swartz's bunt and quick feet that got the Gators going against Bower.
"I don't know who was more nervous," Busam said. "Me asking her to bunt with two strikes, or her being told to bunt with two strikes. I trust her hands; I trust her eyes. She knew we had to do something special.
"She came through big. It was as big as it gets."
The victory moved the Gators (12-0, 3-0 FVC) into sole possession of first place in the FVC. Huntley (13-5, 3-1) suffered its first FVC loss of the season and only its fifth since the start of 2016.
Bower, a sophomore, entered Tuesday with seven shutouts, two perfect games and a no-hitter. South's offense, meanwhile, had scored 152 runs over its first 11 games, a 13.8 average.
"A two-strike bunt, getting that down, it was a great call by them," Red Raiders coach Mark Petryniec said. "We needed that one extra hit today, and it didn't happen. But Bri did a great job against a big powerful lineup, holding them hitless [through 5 1/3 innings]."
After striking out in her first two plate appearances against Bower, Toniolo drove a 2-2 pitch to center field with two outs in the sixth, hitting the ball off the fence and driving in Brooke Kuffel, who reached on a dropped fly ball, and Pupillo to give South a 3-2 lead.
"I was kind of down on myself after two strikeouts, but before I went up to bat, I told myself, 'I was going to hit it. I was going to hit it,' and it worked, " Toniolo said. "They've beaten us three years in a row. Dropping down to Class 3A, this is big for us."
Huntley put the first two batters on in the seventh against Toniolo and scored one on a groundout by Reese Hunkins, cutting South's lead to 4-3. Toniolo retired Bower for the last out on a fly ball to right fielder Nikki Benoit.
"My heart rate was up, and my coach knew that," Toniolo said. "It took three timeouts to calm me down. I knew I had it, and I was happy to have my defense behind me."
Toniolo, a UIC commit, allowed three runs on nine hits, striking out six and walking four. Bower allowed four runs (none earned) on four hits in six innings with seven strikeouts and a walk.
Teagan O'Rilley was 2 for 3 with an RBI for the Raiders, Grace Kutz drove in a run, and Tenuta collected two hits. Hunkins added a double.
STAR OF THE GAME
Christina Toniolo, Crystal Lake South, sr., P
Toniolo clubbed a go-ahead, two-run double with two outs in the sixth and earned the win.
12: Crystal Lake South is unbeaten after 12 games.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
Huntley suffered only its fifth Fox Valley Conference loss since the start of 2016, going 41-5.
Crystal Lake South 4, Huntley 3
Huntley 100 010 1 – 3 9 1
Crystal Lake South 000 004 X – 4 4 0
WP: Toniolo (7IP, 9H, 3R, 3ER, 4BB, 6K). LP: Bower (6IP, 4H, 4R, 0ER, 1BB, 7K).
Top hitters–Huntley: O'Rilley 2-3 (RBI), Mitchell 1-2 (R), Tenuta 2-4, Kutz 1-4 (RBI), Hunkins 1-4 (2B, RBI). Crystal Lake South: Toniolo 1-3 (2B, 2RBI, R), Pupillo 1-2 (RBI, R), Kassel 1-3 (RBI), Swartz 1-2 (R).