Softball | Aurora completes Suburban championship season, readies for tournament
Strong and reliable defense, sound pitching, and more timely hitting was the perfect way for the Suburban League champion Aurora softball team to open up the post-season.
After recently securing the outright title in the Suburban League American Conference, Aurora took to the extra season as the third-seeded host Greenmen won 12-1 over Kenston (8-15), the 21st seed overall, in a Jefferson Division II sectional final on May 13.
Aurora, 19-7 overall, faced fifth seed Beloit West Branch in a district semifinal on Tuesday, May 18 at the Jefferson Little League Complex at 4:30 p.m.
The Greenmen struck early and often against Kenston and plated seven runs in a huge second inning.
Ava Ryncarz, McKennah Metzger, Maggie McVicker, and Shannon Morris all drove in runs in the second frame against young Bomber hurler Devan McCabe.
Metzger, who had a three-run home run, had two other hits and also earned the five-inning win on the mound as the freshman right-hander tossed a two-hitter, walked one batter and struck out eight.
Aurora played errorless ball, which may be more critical than the club’s 15 hits.
“Our defense has come a long way since the beginning of the year,” said Aurora coach Sam Petrash. “We didn’t get to practice as a team until our first scrimmage so we got off to a slow start, but the players have worked very hard on that side of the ball and it is starting to pay off.”
Meanwhile, Aurora’s offense is capable to string together hits and keep the chain moving, but the Greenmen have also shown power, gap power, and that they can play small ball too.
Ryncarz also had three hits and two RBIs in the win and fellow junior, Kayla Ring had two hits and knocked in a pair of runs.
Standout sophomore Maddie Zdanowicz and Morris also had multiple hits in the win. Morris is a junior.
“Our players work hard all year on their hitting and we’ve put a little seasoning on their approach without changing the fundamentals or the mechanics of their swing and they buy in,” said Petrash.
“It’s taken a little time to understand each other and get on the same page, but things seem to be working for us now,” he added. “Our coaches [Sarah Petrash, Curtis Barker and Gregg Unverferth] do a great job of teaching and reinforcing the message from at-bat to at-bat.”
West Branch (21-7) presents a formidable foe and has not allowed a run in the post-season.
Aurora will have to contend with Jordan Anderson, a record-setting pitcher and a strong hitter with power. She has helped the program amass an incredible 72 wins in three years minus the spring lost to COVID.
Anderson, who is headed to George Mason University (Fairfax, Va.), is a right-handed batter and left-handed pitcher, who started in right field and was a leadoff hitter as a freshman when West Branch was the Division II state runner-up in 2018.
“I know that West Branch has good tradition and have a strong pitcher, and we will prepare our best for that,” said Petrash. “They have good tradition and we are happy to be advancing.”
“We have two strong pitchers as well,” said Petrash, who will counter with experienced junior McKenzie Krafcik (11-4) or Metzger (8-3).
“Both pitchers have a little something different to offer and we are comfortable with both of them.”
The Greenmen staff opted to play in the Jefferson district brackets.
If Aurora wins, they will play a district final Thursday, May 20 at Jefferson against the winner of fourth-seed Poland Seminary (18-6) and sixth seed Field, the Metro Athletic Conference champions. First pitch of the district finals is set for 4:30 p.m.
Youthful Aurora recently won the SLAC outright with a 12-2 win against Tallmadge and also played well in a valuable late-season doubleheader split with Federal League power Green.
“We were eager to win and bring a conference championship back home for our community,” said Petrash.
The games against Green were critical as the Aurora coaches felt it would prep Aurora for the post-season. Green won the first game 5-2 and Aurora was a 4-2 winner in the second game.
Against the Bulldogs, Aurora had strong pitching and a good offensive showing.
That diverse offensive production included a three-hit game by Metzger and an RBI triple by junior Maeve Russell in the first game.
In the nightcap, Aurora had Zdanowicz and Ryncarz belt back-to-back homers, Ring had an RBI and two hits, freshman Madeline Dalessandro had key hits, plus McVicker pushed Ally DeSapri home on a perfectly executed safety squeeze by the sophomore duo.
“Mackenzie picked up the win in the second game as she scattered five hits and struck out seven by hitting her spots and she did a great job keeping the ball off their barrel of the bat,” said Petrash.
Aurora’s lone senior is Kennedy Nietert.