You can’t blame the Riverside-Brookfield girls softball team if it’s feeling a little snake-bitten regarding sectional finals. The Lady Bulldogs fell to Nazareth 6-3 in the St. Francis Sectional Championship last week, marking the fourth straight time the program has lost in the sectional title game.
Even more frustrating, the Bulldogs’ most recent sectional setback was largely influenced by a controversial call in the fifth inning. With Nazareth leading 5-3, RB rightfielder Tierney Duffy led off the inning with a single. Third baseman Kiley Rusen followed with another single to put runners on first and second with no outs and a rally in full effect. The first base umpire, however, ruled that Duffy had left first base before the Nazareth pitcher released the ball on Rusen’s hit. Consequently, Duffy was called out and Rusen had to bat again. Instead of first and second with no outs, the dazed Bulldogs were dealt nobody on base with one out.
“I thought the call stunk,” RB coach John Vermillion said. “It was brutal. In 32 games [this season], I hadn’t seen that ruling and [then] it’s called in a sectional championship game. It changed the complexion of the game and took the wind out of our sails.”
The Roadrunners jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning by hitting five singles off RB starter Rachel Denneny, coupled with two Bulldogs’ errors. Kylie O’Connell pitched well in relief of Denneny.
“Rachel had a great season but she struggled in the first inning,” Vermillion said. “Perhaps our players were nervous early, but we settled down and played better.”
Riverside-Brookfield (24-8) began to rally when Ashlee Haugh singled and Kylie O’Connell doubled in the bottom of the second inning. Kelly Ely hit a fielder’s choice to score Haugh and put RB on the board. In the third, Duffy reached first base via an error and scored on Rusen’s double. Becky Mantel banged another two-bagger to bring home Rusen, making the score 4-3.
Aside from the aforementioned controversial call, the Bulldogs’ other source of undoing came from the Roadrunners’ slugging shortstop Shannon Cawley, who hit a pair of solo homers in the fourth and seventh innings to seal the 6-3 decision.
“We had a good season but we’re all disappointed how the season ended,” Vermillion said. “I loved coaching these girls; we’ll miss our seniors,”
Vermillion believed RB had a viable shot at winning a state title this season. That feeling should be even stronger next year as the loaded Bulldogs return nine key players, including seven starters.
Riverside-Brookfield loses all-conference Metro Suburban outfielder Molly Ely, Maggie Zeleny, Cassie Cook, Eleanore Waszak and Denneny to graduation.
Rusen (.496, 5 HRs, 39 RBIs), Mantel (.478, 5 HRs, 29 RBIs) and catcher Emily Hasting (the Bulldogs’ other three all-conference players) all return to lead a potentially devastating offense. O’Connell (13-5, 2.37 ERA) and pitcher/outfielder Meghan Orgler will likely anchor the starting rotation.