Softball: St. Francis advances to regional final
The best way to ensure her senior season didn't end on Wednesday was for St. Francis' leadoff hitter Annika Norman to help her team get off to a fast start against visiting Elmwood Park.
The Spartans shortstop did just that, doubling to start off a 3-run rally in the first inning and adding an RBI double in the fifth as St. Francis held off the 10th-seeded Tigers 5-2 to advance to Thursday's second round of the Class 3A state softball regionals.
"It's very exciting to keep playing and today we had a lot of energy," said Norman, who will play next year at Minnesota State University-Moorhead. "I think today especially we all came out with really high energy and looking forward to everything to come, especially coming off of last season."
With the victory, the 13-11 Spartans advance to take on second-seeded Ridgewood on Thursday after Ridgewood was a 16-0 winner over CICS/Northtown in Wednesday's regional semifinals. Ridgewood beat the Spartans twice this spring but St. Francis coach Ralph Remus knows his team has made big strides this season.
Against Elmwood Park (5-11), St. Francis freshman pitcher Meghan Suess had 12 strikeouts without a walk and allowed just 4 hits over seven innings. Her defense was sharp, especially third baseman Brooke Hartzell, who made several nice plays at the hot corner and also belted a home run to lead off the sixth after the Tigers had scored twice in the top half of the frame to close to within 4-2.
"Three [runs] right away and then we were playing more comfortable," Remus said of the nice start. "We played a real clean game today. I was real happy with everything. We'll be at Ridgewood tomorrow and they beat us twice this year handily, but we're a better team now. If we play clean again, it should be a good game."
The varsity newcomer Suess was happy to have her team provide the early run support and to have team leaders like Morgan and catcher Grace Wanshek lead the way on the field and in the dugout.
"It obviously felt good to win, but I think our team did really well as whole," said Suess, who held the Tigers to just two doubles and a pair of slap singles. "I'm proud of how supportive and nice my teammates are. They're always hyping each other up. Annika is such a high leader. She takes the initiative every single time. She's amazing and so is Grace, my catcher."
Elmwood Park freshman Kylie Jones-Plasencia settled down nicely after allowing the three runs in the first. She kept her team close and at one point retired 10 straight Spartans before Hailey Dillon singled in the fifth and eventually came around on Norman's second double of the game.