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Tigers look sharp in playoff opener

ROMEOVILLE – When a softball team is going to play an opponent with several key players back from a team that lost a heartbreaker in last year’s state championship game, it better be at the top of its game when postseason play begins.

That’s the scenario that faced Joliet West when it met Romeoville in Thursday’s Class 4A Romeoville Regional semifinal in which the winner earned the right to face Lincoln-Way East in Saturday’s 11 a.m. title game.

Coach Heather Suca’s Tigers got just the type of performance they needed against the host Spartans and captured a 10-0 win in six innings. Savannah Fierke tossed a no-hitter and only walked one batter in six innings while striking out eight, and Morgan Gersch homered and had three RBIs.

The Griffins beat the Tigers, 3-1, when the teams met March 31. The winner of the regional title game advances to Wednesday’s Joliet West Sectional, where it meets either Lockport or Lincoln-Way West in the semifinals.

“They definitely were not a team that we’d take lightly,” Suca said. “We played them twice this year and fought with them both times, and this is the best that we played against them. We definitely accomplished a lot of our goals in this game. A lot of the things we’ve worked on, both on offense and defense, they really have been putting it together the last few weeks. We haven’t had games falling our way in the last two weeks, but they’ve been working, coming together, buying in and doing the little things that lead to huge improvements.”

West (18-14) received all of the runs it would need in the first inning, scoring four times. Alex Hughes doubled home Sarah Gersch (3 for 4) and Morgan Gersch. Fierke followed with an RBI double, and Sidney Budzinski (2 for 3, homer, two RBIs) singled in courtesy runner Lauren Russell to give the Tigers a quick 4-0 advantage.

“It’s really important to keep our bats hot,” Morgan Gersch said. “The last time we played [East], we didn’t really hit as well. We’ve been hitting the ball much better than we were in the beginning. When we first started, we were struggling a little bit, but now that we’ve kept working on it, we’re much better. “We’re really excited and pumped for Saturday’s game.”

In the third inning, the Tigers added a run to their total when Budzinski hit a solo shot to left. Then in the fourth inning, Morgan Gersch smacked a three-run home run to right that brought in Samantha Patterson and Sarah Gersch to make it 8-0.

Meanwhile, Fierke was rolling on the mound, completely handcuffing the Spartans (13-17), who only managed to get one walk.

“We’re coming together as a team finally and just clicking,” Fierke said. “I had an arm injury and have come back from it and have been working and just moving on.”

The Tigers ended the game early after scoring their final two runs in the sixth. Arianna Rodriguez doubled in Alayna Chizmark and Sarah Gersch to cap an 11-hit effort.

Being held hitless was a tough way for the Spartans to see their season end. Although coach Amy Ligmanowski’s team handed Southwest Prairie Conference champion Plainfield North one of its two conference losses earlier this month, it also struggled to score runs down the stretch.

“We had a lot of adversity that we had to overcome, and our girls came together and put our best out there in each game and just fell short,” Ligmanowski said. “We had eight seniors, so that was nice to have a good strong group like that. They were able to get the other kids to follow them. Just the effort that they gave every day and the fun that they brought to the field was always enjoyable to be around.”

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