CRYSTAL LAKE – Prairie Ridge pinch runner Rachel Crimaldi had only one goal as she stood on second base: score.
With the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division title awarded to Monday's winner between Prairie Ridge and Cary-Grove, runs were at a premium the deeper the game went. Still scoreless in the sixth inning, Crimaldi ran as fast as she could when teammate Sammy Hempen hit a hard grounder to shortstop with two outs.
But instead of the ground ball resulting in the final out of the inning, a bobbled catch at first allowed Hempen to reach base while Crimaldi scored to give the Wolves a 1-0 lead. That was all the run support pitcher Kirsten Stevens needed. She struck out two in the seventh, her last one a strikeout looking to end the game to give the Wolves the FVC Valley title.
"At first I didn't see the ball bobbled and as I rounded third it clicked," Crimaldi said. "I figured I might as well keep running because you never know."
Alyssa Doomis' single to lead off the sixth and a sacrifice bunt on the ensuing pitch, advanced the go-ahead run – pinch runner Crimaldi – in scoring position and put the pressure on Cary-Grove with one out.
Despite the less than ideal situation, the Trojans were poised the escape the inning. Trojans starter Lauren Stanley struck out the next hitter on four pitches for the second out of the sixth. However, the error thwarted C-G (18-4, 9-3 FVC Valley) from carrying a scoreless game into the seventh.
"It was an outstanding game," C-G coach Tammy Olson said. "I think anytime you've got to have a little bit of a mistake to win a game like this."
Prairie Ridge (24-3, 10-2) bent but didn't break in the early innings against C-G. The Trojans put runners on first and second with one out in the both the first and second innings against Stevens. But the senior pitcher worked around both threats and held the Trojans to two base runners (two singles) in the final five innings.
"It was a little bit of a rough start in the beginning but I knew our defense was strong behind me," Stevens said. "I knew they would make the plays and as the game progressed, the score definitely built up my confidence."
The FVC Valley title is Prairie Ridge's first since joining the Valley Division in the 2011-12 school year.
"I'm so proud of my team," Stevens said. "We've progressed and matured this year and it's an excellent feeling going out with a win."
Olson wouldn't reveal if Efflandt will be ready for the playoffs, which begin May 21, but should the Trojans still be without their ace, they have a great option in Stanley. She has pitched well in Efflandt's absence, even in Monday's loss. Stanley struck out five and allowed seven hits in six innings against the Wolves. She was supported by a great defense behind her, which included a run-saving sliding catch in center field by Lisa Semro to end the fifth.
"[Stanley] has been doing an outstanding job not only becoming a second pitcher but then having to step in and fill the shoes of Lindsay and becoming a day-to-day pitcher," Olson said.