Jenny Homann’s walk-off home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning broke up a pitching duel and gave Freeburg a 1-0 win over Highland to advance the Lady Midgets to the IHSA 3A Softball Super-Sectional for the first time since 1985.
“It was unbelievable,” said Freeburg coach Ben Howes. “We caught some breaks, they had some chances to score, but didn’t do it and it came to back to get them. Their lefty was as a good a pitcher we’ve faced all year. It was a great game and a shame somebody had to lose.”
Freeburg (26-6) will play Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin at the Mattoon Super-Sectional at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
“I didn’t realize it’s been 31 years since we’ve been to the super-sectional that’s pretty awesome,” Howes said. “My assistant coach Sandy (Kunz) Busch was 27-0 that year and pitched that team to our only state championship.”
Sophomore right-hander Miranda Schulte went the distance for Freeburg scattering four hits with seven strikeouts and three walks stranding runners at third in the last three innings.
“Those last three innings were a little stressful, but I knew with my defense I could get out of it,” Schulte said.
Homann hit a 3-2 pitch for her first walk-off home run of her career and seventh of the season.
“I was just thinking get a basehit because we had a strong 2-3-4 and could back me up if I got on,” Homann said. “She was doing a great job all game keeping us off balance with the high pitches and that one was kind of high right down the middle. I just got a hold of it. We have eight seniors and we wanted to win this game really bad.”
Before the senior’s heroics at the plate Homann had made back-to-back defensive plays in the top of the sixth to keep the game scoreless.
With a runner at second and one out pitcher Aubrey Hacke hit a ground ball ticketed for center field, but Homann got to the ball and while she couldn’t make a throw she kept the lead runner from rounding third.
Lily Garbett then popped up an 0-1 pitch that the left fielder was too deep to get to, but Homann made an over-the-shoulder catch and got the ball back in holding the runners. Schulte then got Peyton Holzinger on a come-backer.
“The catch Jenny made over her shoulder may have been the greatest play I’ve seen all my life,” Howes said. “The last few games we’ve played better defense and today may have been the first game we didn’t make an error.”
Hacke had handcuffed Freeburg over the first six innings allowing just two base runners. After she retired the first 10 batters Homann got Freeburg’s first hit on a line drive to right. However, she was stranded at first when Hacke struck out both Schulte and Josie Ledbetter on called third strikes.
Cheyenne Bivins led off the fifth inning with a single to right, but was erased on the next pitch trying to steal second. Hacke had retired five straight when she faced Homann. The junior left-hander finished with eight strikeouts.
“It was all about pitching today,” said Highland coach Greg Exton. “We had some runners on, but their pitcher was able to get out of those jams. I told our players to not hang their heads because they played a good ballgame, but faced a team that also played a good game.”
Highland (25-9) broke up Schulte’s bid for a no-hitter when Holzinger led off the fifth with a Texas Leaguer down the right field line. She advanced to second on a bunt and to third on a wild pitch before Schulte walked Jillian Garbett. Schulte got out of the jam by striking out Jenna Gnaedinger on a called third strike.
In the seventh Schulte walked the leadoff batter and gave up a infield single on a sacrifice bunt attempt to pinch-hitter Kourtney Zobrist, but retired the next three batters on a ground out to third, a pop fly to third and the third out on a ground ball to Homann.