McHenry had just suffered its third loss in four games that Thursday afternoon in April, and the season outlook suddenly was turning bleak for a softball team with high expectations.
A 2-4 start wasn’t what the Warriors expected, let alone a 12-0 shellacking courtesy of Prairie Ridge in their Fox Valley Conference Valley Division opener April 10.
Yet something clicked after the tough loss for McHenry. The Warriors regrouped and ripped off 11 consecutive wins en route to finishing the regular season 24-9 with a FVC Valley outright title and a third straight regional title.
“When you hit rock bottom, you just fight more,” sophomore shortstop Alex Martens said. “When we lost those games, we realized we needed to start working and we would get better. We really buckled down and started doing what we needed to do to win the games we had to.”
McHenry, boasting an experienced team, is geared up for its quest to win its first sectional title since 2002. To conquer that goal, the Warriors first need to beat DeKalb in Tuesday’s Class 4A Jacobs Sectional semifinal at 4:30 p.m. to advance to Saturday’s final.
The Warriors aren’t looking past DeKalb, however. The Barbs are 26-7 this season and won their second straight regional title by beating Huntley. To prevail Tuesday, McHenry understands it must play a complete game, in all facets. Fortunately for the Warriors, they’ve proven they’re capable of blowing teams away, like their 10-0, five-inning win against Grayslake North in the regional semifinals, as well as pulling out close games similar to their 2-1 win against Grant for the regional title.
“Our confidence is just enough that we know if we play our game, we can beat anyone,” junior outfielder Dana Walsh said. “It’s going to take every single girl. We all have to be in sync with our communication. We have to be prepared for anything.”
Walsh said that even though the season started out rough, the Warriors knew they still could be the team they expected and accomplish the goals they set before the season. At this point, it comes down to execution. It helps that the Warriors have been consistently solid defensively with the expectation they made the fundamental, routine plays every time.
The defensive support has eased the pressure on junior starting pitcher Kristin Koepke. She has thrived in the circle for McHenry and is a large part of the team’s success.
“There is more pressure in the playoffs because one loss and you’re done, but my team helps me so much,” Koepke said. “If the bases are loaded, I feel confident we can get out of it because I know my defense is behind me and they’ll make plays when we need them to.”
McHenry coach John DiFrancesca expects it will take a collective team effort to get past DeKalb to put the Warriors in position to win their first sectional title in 12 years.
“It just feels like we’re playing our best ball right now,” DiFrancesca said. “We’re getting some good momentum.”