WOODSTOCK – One month ago, a matchup against a team of Conant's caliber may have been daunting for the Marian Central softball team.
But the Hurricanes and their six freshmen in the starting lineup contended with Conant early in Saturday's championship game of the Woodstock Tournament before losing, 18-8, in six innings.
Marian took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but defensive miscues allowed the Cougars to tie the score in the bottom of the first.
The Hurricanes scored three more in the second inning, and trailed Conant, 6-5, after three innings. The undefeated Cougars hit four home runs, which proved too much for the Hurricanes to overcome.
Despite the loss, Marian (11-8) took second place in the tournament, and coach Erin Widmayer said her team is finally "cruising at the right altitude now."
"I think the ability's always been there," Widmayer said. "It's more or less we're coming together. We're so young, we're finally jelling."
Jackie Chimel went 3 for 3 for the Hurricanes with three RBIs to help Marian take a 5-2 lead in the top of the second. Marian's Hannah O'Hagan finished 2 for 4 with a double, three RBIs and three runs scored.
Conant (13-0) scored five runs in the fourth to take an 11-5 lead and added three more in the fifth when it sent nine batters to the plate.
Marian starting pitcher Jen Giesey, who did not figure in the decision, allowed five runs (three earned) on three hits in two innings. Cougars third baseman Rachel O'Malley was a menace to the Hurricanes' four pitchers the entire game. O'Malley reached base in all five at-bats, collecting four hits, including a three-run homer to center field in the second to tie the score at 5, with a double and five runs scored.
In the third-place game, Crystal Lake South rebounded with a 7-5 win against Cary-Grove after the Gators' 4-2 loss to Marian in a winner's bracket semifinal.
The Gators, led by freshman pitcher Sam Burgard, built a five-run lead on C-G. She allowed three earned runs in seven innings with two stirkeouts and six walks. Burgard focused on hitting her spots and said the Gators (9-9) did a good job of moving past the lost to Marian.
"We came out ready to hit, and it's what we've been talking about: We did a lot of the little things," South coach Scott Busam said. "We kept lead runners from taking an extra base, and we made a lot of the routine plays. They were alert and mentally present."
C-G (10-7) suffered a tough 7-5 loss in eight innings against Conant in the winner's bracket semifinal, although the Trojans took a 2-0 lead against South in the first inning. But South (9-9) scored a run in the second and three runs in third and fourth innings, for a comfortable lead.
C-G coach Tammy Olson didn't think the Trojans had a letdown after the tough loss to Conant but said her team needed to transition faster from playing consecutive games.
"This is the halfway mark now, so having this tournament and getting a lot of different players different areas and looks with some people getting rest, moving on we're definitely getting stronger," Olson said.
Crystal Lake Central beat Harvard, 6-1, in the seventh-place game, and Woodstock finished sixth, losing to Orangeville, 11-8.