Zoe Kurtzer is only halfway through her softball career at Evanston Township High School and it’s already been quite a roller coaster ride, with more lows than highs.
But Kurtzer’s peak performance was just what the Wildkits needed on Memorial Day to advance in the Illinois High School Association Class 4A state tournament.
The sophomore right-hander tossed a 1-hitter for the first shutout of her varsity career, and racked up a career-high 8 strikeouts as the Wildkit girls eliminated Proviso East by a 9-0 count in the first round of the Maine South Regional tournament.
Evanston, the No. 13 seed in the Niles West Sectional complex, will take an 11-18 record into Tuesday’s matchup with No. 4 Trinity at 4:30 p.m. at Maine South.
A bunt single by Proviso’s Karen Cuellar leading off the third inning was the only hit for the Pirates. Kurtzer retired 15 of the last 16 hitters she faced, a stretch spoiled only by the Kits’ lone error of the game.
Gina Hopf slugged a 2-run homer in the fourth and also had an RBI single, and Megan Chambers and Hannah Schaps each contributed a pair of hits for the winners. Evanston scored two runs in the first, three in the second, two in the fourth and two more in the sixth.
Both Kurtzer and classmate Jaden Janzen endured plenty of rough moments in the circle last spring against varsity competition after the ETHS coaching staff decided that a youth movement in the rotation was the best approach to take for the program.
Kurtzer moved down to the junior varsity level at the start of the current season when transfer Darice Wheeler appeared to help fill a void in the rotation. But when Wheeler quit the team at mid-season, Kurtzer re-joined Janzen in the varsity rotation.
The sophomore wasn’t exactly eager to move back up to the varsity, but not for reasons of vanity.
Like all pitchers, she likes to swing the bat, but knew those opportunities would be limited with the varsity.
“On the JV team I was getting a ton of reps in the outfield and on offense when I wasn’t pitching,” Kurtzer said. “My (batting) average got a lot better and the more reps I got, the more confidence I built. I love pitching and helping out however I can, but I definitely wanted to improve everything for next year.
“Today if I pitched well and did my part, I knew my teammates would back me up and follow through behind me. My inside fastball was my most effective pitch today, even though the umpire didn’t always call it, and it helped get some outs. I just tried to keep it simple and held back my curve. I just used my fastball and my changeup.”
“She hasn’t fared very well since we brought her up. She hasn’t made it through an entire game before today,” said Evanston coach Luella Gesky. “She’s had a lot of problems hitting her locations and with staying warm throughout a game. But today she hit her spots and didn’t panic when she got behind in the count. That was also some very good fielding by her today, some of the best I’ve ever seen from Zoe. And the rest of the girls definitely had her back on defense today.
“She was a little upset about coming back up to the varsity because once she got with the JV team, she had some success there and thought it was the right spot for her. But we needed her (after Wheeler left) and now she’s upset because she doesn’t get to hit. This is the right spot for her, though.”
Kurtzer walked two in the first three innings, then zeroed in with pinpoint control, including one stretch when she fanned 5 of 6 Pirate batters.
Evanston jumped out to a 2-0 lead after consecutive walks to Maddy Managlia, Chambers and Emma Maxwell to start the game. Janzen drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly and Chambers tallied on a passed ball.
In the second, the hosts bunched five hits against losing pitcher Pilar Rivas with both Chambers and Hopf delivering RBI singles. Highlight of that uprising, though, was the alert baserunning of Kendra Klamm, who reached on a bunt single and then hustled all the way around to score when Caitlin Rudy also dropped down a bunt single.
A single by Chambers and a one-out, line drive home run to left center by the hot-hitting Hopf tacked on two more runs in the fourth. The Kits added a pair of unearned runs in the sixth.
Source: ETHS Sports Information