Amazing Aurora rally keeps Greenmen in first
AURORA — Three-hitter McKennah Metzger ripped a two-run homer in the fifth.
Cleanup batter Mackenzie Krafcik cracked a game-tying double in the seventh.
Ava Ryncarz didn't let those two get a chance to hit in the ninth.
Nope, the Greenmen two-hitter won it herself, driving a walk-off double to the right-field gap to lift Aurora to a 5-4 victory over Highland Wednesday afternoon.
"I knew I just was going to come up and had to make something happen, whether that be move the runner, anything really," Ryncarz said. "It ended up, I don't know, I guess I just saw the ball well and let my swing do the thing."
In so doing, Ryncarz, who went 3-for-5 but in reality had five fantastic at-bats, upended the longstanding order in the Suburban American. With their victory, the first-place Greenmen (14-5, 7-1) eliminated the defending champion Hornets (14-8, 6-4) from the league chase while staying two losses ahead of Revere and Tallmadge.
Ryncarz's story, bouncing back from an epic 11-pitch at-bat in the seventh that ended in a strikeout to record the game-winning hit in the ninth, was Aurora's story.
Over and over, the Greenmen bounced back Wednesday.
After yielding three runs in the top of the first, despite the Hornets hitting just two balls out of the infield, Krafcik stranded two more runners with a pop and a strikeout to get out of the inning, then allowed a single run the rest of the way.
In the bottom of the third, still trailing 3-0, Aurora caught another tough break. With runners on first and second and no outs, Metzger's fly to the right-field gap was caught and the runner taking third was ruled to have left the second-base bag early.
No worries, as Krafcik made sure the rally wasn't for naught, tearing a two-out RBI single to center to draw within 3-1.
Back down by three (4-1) in the fifth, the Greenmen caught another tough break as Metzger's deep blast sailed just left of the foul pole. No worries, as the Aurora first baseman hammered the very next pitch over the left-field fence for a two-run round-tripper, marking her third homer in two games against Highland this season.
"I knew I've been overthinking myself at the plate," Metzger said. "So I went up and when I hit that (foul), I kind of gained some more confidence and then on the next pitch it was 0-2 count and I wasn't really expecting it, but I knew if it was there I had to do something with it so I just did what I could."
With their top of the order coming up and trailing by a single run to start the seventh, the Greenmen's high hopes took a hit with a pop and a strikeout to begin the inning. After the Hornets walked Metzger, Krafcik delivered, scorching the ball so hard down the third-base line that it rolled all the way to the wall while Metzger went first to home.
"I was ready to hit," Krafcik said. "My first at-bat, striking out, motivated me to get on every single at-bat for the rest of the game."
Once more, Aurora caught a tough break, as it was robbed of its (first) chance at a walk-off in the eighth, when Highland centerfielder Riley Crandall threw a strike to the plate to catch the Greenmen trying to win on a sacrifice fly.
"I watched her warm up, I knew what her arm was, but in that situation, we got to take a chance," Aurora coach Sam Petrash said. "She's got to make the catch, she's got to make the throw, they got to make the catch and they got to get the tag down. Four things have to happen there. We said, 'We'll take our chance,' but I knew she was going to make a strong throw."
Once more, the Greenmen bounced back, with Krafcik capping a 1-2-3 top of the ninth with a pair of strikeouts, especially critical since Illinois commit Paige Berkmeyer (2-of-3) was thus left standing in the on-deck circle to end the frame.
"She did a great job," Petrash said. "She's a very cerebral pitcher. She studies the hitters and she looks for holes and she can pitch to them."
Then, in the bottom of the ninth, leadoff hitter Maddie Zdanowicz cracked a double to the right-field gap and Ryncarz, following her 11-pitch at-bat in the bottom of the seventh, ripped the first pitch she saw to the opposite-field gap to win the game.
"I've been struggling lately, but I knew today's game was important," Ryncarz said. "I was just going to come in and clear my mind and just do what I had to do to help us get the win."
All in all, the Greenmen's top of the order was brilliant, with Zdanowicz, Ryncarz, Metzger and Krafcik going a combined 8-for-17 and knocking in and scoring all five runs for the home team. Ryncarz went 3-for-5 in the box score but 5-for-5 in terms of having good at-bats as she hit four line drives, three of which found grass, as well as her epic 11-pitch at-bat in the bottom of the seventh. Like Ryncarz, Krafcik and third baseman Kayla Ring also had three hits for Aurora.
As a result, the Greenmen overcame another strong day by Berkmeyer, who sent a sharp single to left to start the Hornets' three-run top of the first and scorched a two-out double to keep the top of the fourth going. Second baseman Emma Hetkey (3-for-4) drove her home in the fourth with a chopper up the middle, giving Highland a 4-1 lead, and otherwise relied on her speed, beating out a bunt in the first and a chopper in the seventh. Pitcher Liz Kasper was equally tough, keeping Aurora's offense in check for much of the afternoon while ripping hits in each of her first three at-bats.