Fenton’s softball team had plenty of good swings against Evanston pitcher Molly Chambers the first time through the batting order Wednesday.
After that? No chance.
Chambers struck out 14 batters --- 11 of them in the final 4 innings --- and led the Wildkits into the championship game of the Class 4A Evanston Regional tournament with a 5-0 blanking of No. 8 seed Fenton.
No. 9 seed Evanston improved to 16-9 and will host the No. 1 sectional seed, Oak Park-River Forest, in the title game Friday at 4:30 p.m. Oak Park eliminated Lincoln Park 16-1 in the other regional semifinal.
Chambers has carved out a reputation that’s rare for a pitcher, one who seems to get stronger every inning she goes back out to the circle. That’s been the pattern for the right-hander, who is already the winningest pitcher in school history, and her stamina and ability to close out games gives ETHS a chance to win no matter who the opponent might be.
The junior hurler permitted only 4 hits --- two of them on bunts --- and wriggled out of a minor 7th inning jam by whiffing the last two batters she faced on 9 pitches.
In one stretch in the middle of the contest, she fanned 6 of 7 batters from a Fenton squad that entered the game with a 23-12 won-loss record.
“As Molly gets going in a game, she keeps coming back stronger,” pointed out ETHS head coach Amy Gonzales. “She continually builds throughout the entire game. She’s not walking as many hitters as she did last year, even though she might still throw a lot of pitches, and given the pressure of this game and the stage we were on, she did a very good job of keeping her composure, keeping relaxing and keeping in a groove.
“I don’t know if we’ve played in front of this many people all year long and I think there were a lot of nerves for everyone. They weren’t as relaxed as they should be. And when I went out to talk to Molly (in the 7th inning), I just told her to get one out at a time, that’s all we needed to do.”
Most of those outs Wednesday came on swings and misses, after Chambers only struck out a couple in the first three frames.
“It’s usually a little easier for me the second time through the lineup,” the righty explained. “After the first couple of innings, I talk with the coaches and with Katie (catcher Katie Patton) about the other teams’ swings and misses, and which pitches they hit hard. Their first three hitters hit the ball pretty hard today, and I didn’t want that to happen again.
“I struggled throwing my change-up today, so I used my rise and my curve a lot more. You have to prove yourself more out there when you’re facing a team you don’t know, and it’s about getting ahead and getting that first batter out so you can show the other team --- and your own team – that hey, we’ve got this.”
As the visitors because of their lower seed, the Wildkits got a chance to hit first and pushed across an unearned run against losing pitcher Cynthia Ibarra. Ibarra’s early wild spell started when she hit Chloe Haack with the first pitch of the game, and then she issued walks to Lucy Hart and Chambers to load the bases with one out.
Catcher Alyssa Texta’s wild pickoff toss to third base allowed Haack to score without benefit of a hit.
Evanston bunched four singles --- by Patton, Zoe Landolt, Haack and Hart --- to push the lead to 3-0 in the second. Hart whacked a 2-out double and Chambers singled her home in the fifth, and Haack scored an unearned insurance run in the 7th on a two-out error by Fenton shortstop Isa Lozada.
Fenton threatened in the 7th when Jori Lucas doubled to left center to start the inning, and pinch-runner Teresa Aguirre went to third on a passed ball. Designated player Jessica Jalowiece lined to center for the first out, and then Madison Spencer dropped down a bunt single to make it first and third with one out.
That’s where the threat ended, as Chambers reached back to strike out both Ashley Milano and Lozada to keep Evanston’s season alive.