Kulczyski, Willowbrook roll past Hinsdale Central in regional semifinal
Over the last two-plus years, Willowbrook pitcher Caitlyn Kulczyski has missed more than her share of games due to either injury or pandemic.
She made sure her senior season would not come to a close Tuesday night in a semifinal of the Class 4A Lyons Township regional.
The Warriors hurler struck out the first six Hinsdale Central batters she faced on her way to a 2-hit shutout and a 10-0, five-inning victory. She also did her part at the plate, recording a single, a walk and a sacrifice bunt, with her only nonproductive at-bat occurring after Red Devils center fielder Amelia McLaughlin made a diving grab in left center to rob Kulczyski of another hit and at least one RBI.
Willowbrook (19-7) led 1-0 after two innings before taking control of the contest with a 6-run third inning that featured five doubles, including a 2-run hit to center field off the bat of Kayleigh Dennison that made the score 7-0.
"I definitely felt confident to get some insurance runs. I could loosen up a bit and knew that even if I missed I knew I had a lot of runs behind me," said Kulczyski, who improved to 13-1 on the spring even after missing a couple weeks to injury. "And I wasn't missing (today) and we have some pretty decent defense which makes you even more confident."
COVID-19 wiped out her sophomore campaign, and a broken arm kept her out of the circle in 2021. But the senior pitcher and her Warriors teammates have been pretty special this spring and look to keep on going against a 19-3 Lyons team in the regional final, which will be scheduled for either Friday or Saturday, depending on the weather forecast.
"It feels real good to get a full season because my junior season I had a broken arm, my sophomore year was COVID, so really my freshman and senior years I had the opportunity to pitch a lot (and) it feels really great," she said.
Leadoff hitter Sonia Ruchala reached base three times for Willowbrook, scoring twice and driving in three runs. Dennison, who followed Kulczyski in the third spot, had a pair of hits and scored the team's 10th run on an RBI double by Grace Hayes that made the score 10-0 and ended the contest in the fifth inning.
"It feels really good to do this in the first round," Dennison said. "I was making good contact today so that was really good. It's really cool (to advance). I know LT is a good team, but I think we can play them well."
The Red Devils closed the year 7-14. Freshman Sophie DiPasquale and junior Paige Filips each had singles, but Hinsdale Central only had one baserunner reach second base in the contest because Kulczyski was in control.
"It took them a little while to figure out our pitcher, but when they did, they did it at the right time," Red Devils coach Brittany Zust said. "One thing we came here with was the mindset to control what you can. Be aggressive as you can and leave it all on the field. That catch (by McLaughlin) proved that right there. Yeah, we might have lost but we gave it our all."
Warriors coach Rachel Karos knows the Lions will provide a tough test in the regional finals, but she also knows her team will be ready.
"We're working really hard on our hitting this week," said Karos, noting that it's been several years since the program claimed a regional title. "We've got 11 wins in a row so we're coming alive at the right time. I feel pretty good about where we're at. They're a good team, but hey, so are we."