Softball: Extra-inning rally falls short on Senior Night

The Rochelle Lady Hub varsity softball team honored its four seniors before Tuesday's game against Dixon. Above from left to right are Morgan Smardo, Francesca Williams, Layla Pelan and Maleah Pointer. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Four seniors recognized as Dixon survives Rochelle 5-4 in nine frames

ROCHELLE — Some baserunning magic in the bottom of the seventh inning allowed the Rochelle Lady Hub varsity softball team to extend Tuesday evening’s nonconference Senior Night matchup against the Dixon Duchesses into extra frames. Rochelle would need another late-inning rally as the team faced a one-run deficit heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. 

With two outs and two runners on base for the Lady Hubs, senior Morgan Smardo smashed a hard ground ball to Dixon shortstop Kiley Gaither, but a bad throw to first base rolled all the way to the fence, allowing junior Macy Belmonte and sophomore Lauren Dyer to score and tie the game. Although Belmonte scored easily, Dyer was still on the basepath to home plate when Dixon catcher Kennedy Haenitsch received the throw from first baseman Morgan Bailey. 

Miraculously, Dyer went underneath and evaded the tag attempt from Haenitsch, who was forced to take over at catcher after starter Ava Valk departed earlier in the frame with a head injury. Dyer’s run made the score 4-4, which stood until the Duchesses took a one-run lead after Bailey Tegeler reached on an error and scored on a passed ball in the top of the ninth inning. 

Junior Ella Alfano singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, but was caught trying to reach third base on a one-out single from Dyer that soared into left-center field. With a chance to win the game for her team, Smardo belted a deep fly ball toward the left-center-field fence, but the Duchess center fielder Tegeler snagged the ball at the warning track, effectively sealing Dixon’s 5-4 win over the Lady Hubs. Rochelle (5-19, 2-11 Interstate 8) will host Kaneland on Thursday before beginning the IHSA 3A Sycamore Regional against Freeport next Wednesday.

“We just need to work on piecing together hits and we need to continue to work on our baserunning,” head coach Deanna Jacobs said. “I thought Morgan pitched really well today, but we need to start piecing things together and we have some things that we need to clean up.”

Smardo started in the circle and fired all nine frames for the Lady Hubs, striking out a season-high and career-high 21 batters while holding Dixon hitless over the first three innings. Rochelle held a 1-0 lead after an opposite-field triple from Smardo rolled to the right-field wall and allowed Dyer, who singled in the previous at-bat, to come home from first base. 

Dixon rallied for three runs in the top of the fourth inning, where a two-run double from Valk put the Duchesses ahead 2-1 before an RBI single from Delaney Bruce gave Dixon a two-run advantage. Smardo singled and scored on a dropped third strike in the bottom of the fourth inning, making the score 3-2 before a baserunning mistake led to the third out at third base.

The Lady Hubs saw three runners reach base across the fifth and sixth innings, but no runners were able to score. Dixon inched ahead in the top of the seventh inning, scoring one run after Bruce slapped a slow-rolling RBI single through the left side of the infield with two outs. Dyer went 3-for-5 with three singles to lead the Rochelle offense, while Smardo went 2-for-5 and sophomore Erin Murphy went 3-for-5 with three singles out of the No. 7 hole in the order. 

Rochelle honored four senior players in a pregame ceremony before the first pitch. Seniors Francesca Williams, Morgan Smardo, Maleah Pointer and Layla Pelan were each recognized for their time with the Lady Hub softball program and presented with gifts and flowers.

“The senior class is definitely unique because they didn’t have a season during their freshman year due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jacobs said. “They were able to give a lot to the varsity team over the last three years and we really appreciate what they’ve contributed to the team.”