Grayslake Central athlete Claire Brennan is off to the University of Iowa next year. On Tuesday, her four-year varsity softball career at Central ended.
In the fifth inning of North's 2-1 regional win, shortstop Brennan strolled to the plate with the game on the line. She would bat with the winning runs on base. And North paid her the biggest compliment. They weren't going to let her beat them. She was intentionally walked. And maybe out of disappointment, Brennan actually took a swing at one of those wild Kristi Gandy pitches.
It was a smart move by North. The Knights winners of 24 games this spring survived Central's best effort and will move to the regional title game come Saturday morning.
Central (14-20) had a better year than last year so that pleases the Central shortstop.
"We gelled well together,'' Brennan said. "I thought we did better than people expected. This has been four years now and it's kind of sad."
North's leadoff hitter, Jordyn Bowen, looks to be a born hitter. The junior produced four line drives, good for singles. She scored the game's first run in the opening inning but that was her only run scored.
"All winter, I worked on my hitting,'' Bowen said. "I had a good hitting coach. I'm just up there swinging the bat."
The winning Knights had 14 runners reach first base. Just two of them scored making this for a tense ballgame.
"We were beating ourselves,'' Bowen said. "We played well but we needed to bring those runners home."
Some of the credit here goes to Central pitcher Tayler Janda who stranded all those Grayslake runners. She survived three walks in the first inning and four singles in the second. Yet she did not allow a run after the second inning.
"We shut them down,'' said Central coach Abbie Tadelman. "Tayler pitched outstanding and we played phenomenal defense."
The Rams struggled against the hard-throwing Kristi Gandy. Central's lone run came in the second when third baseman Brittany Brown reached on an infield single and scored with help from an error and a few sacrifice bunts.
"This was our closest game with them,'' Gandy said. "Normally we get those runs in. We had a huge sigh of relief after this game."
Each team ripped a double to the gap. For North's Nikki Livingood, it came in the third inning. Of course, she was stranded at second. For Central, it came in the sixth inning. Brandy Heraty hit a rocket to left field with one out but again the Rams could not forge a tie.
Clearly the most tension came in the Rams' fifth inning. Sarah Kuligowski, playing in her last softball game, ripped a single to center. Jamie Brew gave pitcher Gandy some work by fouling off 11 pitches before putting the ball in play. She reached on an error and the Rams had something going. That's when Brennan received her free base of balls. Two outs later and Gandy was on her way.
Sixteen of the 19 hitters reached base in this contest. Clearly this could have been a high-scoring affair. Instead, it turned into a pitching duel and it made for interesting watching.
Central's graduates include Brennan, Kuligowski, Janda and Kati Brew.
"Those four seniors led our team all season long,'' Tadelman said. "I am so proud of them."