McKenzie Sisk hobbled from the Belleville West dugout following a 2-0 win over Alton with a bandage around her thigh and ice packs strapped to her calf muscle.
She had already had missed games earlier this high school softball season with a nagging hamstring pull, but for someone who has been less-than-perfect physically, the West junior has done a remarkable job maintaining near-perfect performances in the pitcher's circle.
Her shutout of Alton Tuesday — in which she allowed just three scratch hits and a walk while striking out seven — came on the heals of a no-hitter in Highland Saturday.
"When she was injured, I think she came back maybe a game too soon and she struggled there," said West coach Casey Garrett. "But we gave her some time to heal and she's had two great games back-to-back. She's definitely came back tonight."
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And as Sisk has returned to regular strength, so have the Maroons (9-4), who have now won three in a row and five of their last six.
Sisk, who was perfect against Alton through three and pitched to just three more than the game’s minimum, got plenty of help from a much-improved West defense.
The Maroons committed 30 errors through their first 10 games, but came up big for Sisk in her shutout of Alton.
Redbird junior Brittany Roady led off with a single to lead off the fifth, but was double off the first when West second baseman Daisha Price snagged a Rachel McCoy line drive and flipped to first.
Price did it again in the top of the seventh, this time with Roady at the plate and the tying runs on base with one out.
In the bottom of the sixth, West center fielder Alliyah St. John robbed Tomi Dublo of a two-out hit with a back-handed shoe-string catch, diving into the left-centerfield gap.
"Our defense has definitely improved since our first game," Sisk said. "We were a little rocky, but we are defintely pulling through and getting everything together.
"I couldn't get around on my curveball as well. Some teammates helped me figure it out what I was doing wrong. I wasn't snapping my wrist, but we figured it out. And the defense really came through whenever I let the ball in play."
At the plate, junior third baseman Morgan Hinkle did the heavy lifting for Belleville West, which had five hits in the game.
Her second-inning sacrifice fly to score Olivia Young, who led off the frame with a single, was all the Maroons needed for the Southwestern Conference win. But she added an RBI single in the fourth to plate shortstop Hannah Biermann, who had doubled.
Hinkle also laced a line drive down the third base line with two outs and runners on in the sixth, but the hit was called foul by the home plate umpire. The at-bat ended with a pop out to the Alton shortstop.
"We only had four or five hits, but we were able to take advantage in situations to move runners along," Garrett said. "Hinkle came up big and did what she needed to do."
Alton got a solid performance at the rubber from Roady. The junior struck out four and walked just one. She also had one of the Redbirds' hits.
"Morgan pitched a real solid game against a good offensive team," said Alton coach Dan Carter. "It's a tough loss for us, but I'm pretty pleased with the way we played today. We're a young team — we don’t have any seniors and only three juniors — and West is now where we had been. It's a process for us right now, but I saw some positive things today."
In addition to the two defensive gems, Price had two hits for the Maroons, both singles. Biermann also was 2-for-2 with a single, a double and a sacrifice bunt.
Alton got hits from Roady, Katelyn Presley and Savannah Fisher.