Softball: Kuffel powers Crystal Lake South to regional crown
Crystal Lake South's Brooke Kuffel knew from the second she swung the ball was leaving the yard Thursday.
After hitting a two-run homer during her previous at-bat, the senior smashed a solo home run, her ninth of the season, over the center-field fence to punctuate the Gators' 8-0 Class 3A regional championship win over Woodstock North.
"I was not expecting it, to be honest, but it felt so nice," Kuffel said. "My second one, I kind of knew it right off the bat."
Kuffel's home runs and pitching along with a solid Gator defense allowed South to secure the team's second regional championship in as many seasons.
The fourth-seeded Gators (16-10) will face No. 1 Wauconda in a sectional semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in Wauconda.
The Gators pushed across three runs in the first inning from their first three batters. Kennedy Grippo and Kuffel reached on walks, and Pupillo was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Molly Cook followed with an RBI groundout to bring in Grippo. Dana Skorich then fired a double to left field to drive in both Pupillo and Kuffel.
South tacked on three more runs in the second inning. Grippo started the one-out rally with a line-drive single. Pupillo promptly drove Grippo home with a double, and Kuffel followed with her two-run homer blast to give the Gators a 6-0 cushion.
"Really the whole lineup through, jumping on and getting those six runs early, putting the pressure on them, it makes it a lot easier for us, and it's just a lot of fun," South coach Pat Kelly said.
Kuffel performed offensively with the homers, and was also effective in the circle against North (15-7). Kuffel held North to just three hits on the afternoon with six strikeouts.
Kuffel's trusted catcher, Pupillo, also hit a solo home run in the fifth inning to give the Gators their final run.
"Me and Brooke have a very open relationship and we're very honest with each other," Pupillo said. "We're always in the dugout thinking about pitch sequences when we're on offense, and then whenever we get into defense, we're still communicating ... it's very open because we want to win."
Woodstock North's best scoring chance came when Mykenzie Selof got on with a leadoff walk and reached third on a pair of stolen bases in the second inning. Kuffel, however, was able to escape the inning with a strikeout and a pair of groundouts. Selof was the only runner to make it past first base against Kuffel.
"We had a great season," Thunder coach Paul Sandall said. "We were 15-7, and I think it's the lowest loss record that we've had in North history. We played well. We're young, we've got some young talent in here and we've got some other young kids coming in next year. It looks good."
The Gators are now gearing up for a rematch with Wauconda. South lost the teams' first meeting, 12-4, on May 21.
"We saw them before, we played them here at our place and we're excited to go there and play them again," Kelly said. "They're a great team, a complete team, probably one of the most complete teams we've seen. We're excited to get the chance to play them and play them for the sectional semifinals."