Comets hand Patriots rare loss behind young stars

Published 2:01 pm Friday, March 20, 2015

LAPLACE — The cheers were loud and the smiles bright on the faces of St. Charles Catholic’s softball players Thursday — and rightfully so.

The Comets landed their biggest victory to date this season, besting defending Class 3A state champion John Curtis 4-1 at SCC and, in the process, handing the Patriots only their fifth loss since the beginning of the 2012 season.

Curtis, which won two straight Class 2A championships before winning Class 3A last season, entered Thursday’s game riding momentum after ace Peyton Pigniolo struck out 14 in a no-hit shutout of Riverside Tuesday, her fourth no-hitter this season.

But St. Charles (9-4, 1-0) rode a patient approach at the plate and a strong game on the mound by eighth grader Kelsie Williams, who tossed a complete game and held Curtis to six hits and one run, finding success largely due to her pinpoint control: Williams walked no batters.

“I have a lot of confidence in my defense,” Williams said. “I’m just worried about throwing strikes. If I hit my spots, they can handle it from there. I was just doing anything I could to keep the ball in the park.”

Caroline Julian makes contact to drive in the first run of Thursday’s district battle between her St. Charles Comets and John Curtis. Julian drove in three runs on the day. (Submitted by Eddie Hitt)

Caroline Julian makes contact to drive in the first run of Thursday’s district battle between her St. Charles Comets and John Curtis. Julian drove in three runs on the day. (Submitted by Eddie Hitt)

That pitching and defensive performance resulted in the lowest run count for Curtis this season. The Patriots had scored three runs or more in each of their first 11 games.

It was the District 11-3A opener for both the Comets and Patriots (11-2, 0-1), the two teams heavily favored to decide the district championship this season. The Comets now have the inside track to that crown, as there is only one round of play in 11-3A and the teams will not rematch this regular season.

It’s the first district game Curtis has dropped since it began its run of three straight state crowns.

“You know, for us, it’s not even about our district,” St. Charles coach Ty Monica said. “We’re not talking about district championships, but rather simply getting better every day. We’ve been on a little bit of a roller coaster. We’re coming off a pretty good win … We know we’ll see Curtis again. They’re too good and too experienced to think we’re past them for good.”

St. Charles got on the board first in the third inning after walks drawn by Lela Hill, Morgan Nobile and Kaitlyn Lowry loaded the bases.  Cleanup hitter Caroline Julian drove Hill in on a ground ball to make it 1-0.

Curtis threatened to answer in the top of the fourth inning, after Alyssa Dean got on and went on to reach third with one out — the latter was the source of a heated moment after a call was reversed on-field and Dean was ruled safe. But Payton Adams hit a hot line drive to Lowry, whose quick reflexes resulted in a strong defensive play. Williams got Lydia Linden to fly out to end the inning.

In the fifth, SCC created some breathing room. Nobile and Lowry reached on an infield single and walk, respectively, and they advanced on a wild pitch. Julian made it count, smashing a ball to right-center to plate both runners. She followed up her double by taking home on a Curtis error and made it 4-0.

“I knew I was up with less than two outs both times, so I had to hit it to the right side. ” Julian said. “That was my focus, I executed it and I’m really excited about it … This (win)  should be a big confidence boost for us. We earned it.”

Curtis’ last gasp came in the seventh after Pigniolo singled and Logan Melancon doubled her home. But SCC second baseman Paige Williams made a nice play on a grounder to the right side of the infield, and Williams got Toni Rizzo to ground out to end the game.

Like Williams, Julian is also one of the younger Comets, in the midst of her freshman year.

“Age doesn’t matter. If you get the job done, we’ll put you out there,” Monica said. “And I’m happy about that right now.”

Pigniolo began the game with a clean first inning, but found trouble with her control from there, walking six batters, including four between the second and third innings. She allowed three hits and struck out three.

“We knew she was very good, and we’d have to pick and choose our battles,” Monica said. “We knew we had to make every runner count.

“We were excited about anyone getting on or having a good at-bat even as a means of making her throw a few more pitches by fouling some off.”