OSWEGO – Rallies sometimes come when you least expect them.
Oswego had one during its season opener on Thursday afternoon, a day and game that was like no other for the Panthers. They were playing for the first time without their former coach Amanda Stanton, who died tragically in a hit-and-run crash last summer.
Behind an unforeseen rally in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Panthers scored four runs after having no one on base and two outs to beat Naperville North, 10-7.
“That’s the awesome part of this team,” Oswego coach Sara Polensky said. “Even though we had a hit-and-run and our runner wasn’t paying attention to the ball and got doubled off, we kept fighting. They see that we’re down a run with two outs in the sixth and it doesn’t matter. We’re still going to push through and go 100 percent and do what’s best for the team.”
Laurie Avila got the rally going as she reached on a ground ball up the middle that pitcher Camelia Chelich deflected but couldn’t handle. That set the stage for catcher Becky Pieroni, who hammered a run-scoring double with Avila running on a full count.
“I obviously know my teammates well so if someone starts something we’re all going to pick each other up,” Pieroni said. “That’s why I was jumping up and down on second base because I knew that was the game.”
Kathleen Kowalczyk ran for Pieroni and scored the go-ahead run on Megan Maruna’s deep drive off the left fielder's glove. Maruna just missed going deep for the second time of the game.
“It was low in the zone and I knew when I hit it that I definitely felt like I dropped my shoulder,”Maruna said. “That usually happens after you hit home runs. You tend to over exaggerate, but it did the job so I’ll take it.”
Annie Scaramuzzi then went the other way, doubling home Maruna on a drive down the left field line. She scored on Raelyn Reichert’s base hit up the middle that made it 10-7.
“That was a real confidence booster for all of us,” Pieroni said. “We just needed that throughout the whole game.”
Pieroni, whose favorite baseball player is long-time St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, threw out a runner stealing earlier in the game and picked another off third base to minimize the damage of Naperville North’s three-run second.
That kind of aggressive defense is the way the Panthers plan on playing this spring in all facets of the game.
“One of our mindsets for the year is to be aggressive,” Polensky said. “We want to be aggressive running the bases, at the plate and on defense. We always want to be aggressive.”
Maruna certainly was when she lambasted a 1-2 pitch for a three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth to give the Panthers a 6-4 lead.
“For me it’s almost like there’s no thinking with two strikes,” Maruna said. “I just know that if there’s anything in that zone that the umpire can call, I need to get it out and get it out of the infield. I knew I was up in a situation where we were down and I personally like playing under that pressure and just kind of looked for that pitch.”
As for the aggressive base running, it burned the Panthers on the double play to start the sixth, but it also got them two runs on a ground out to second base off the bat of Jenna Johnson in the third. Avila had an RBI ground out in the third before Maruna’sbig blast.
Abbey Kuehner, who relieved starting pitcher Nicolette Evans with two outs in the sixth, earned the victory.
There was a moment of silence before the game in memory of Stanton. Afterward, it was announced that Oswego teacher Alejandro Rodriguez’s metals class made a plaque in her honor that will be permanently hung in the home dugout. The plaque has Stanton’s name and her No. 14 as well as her unforgettable quote, “Hustle and Heart will set you apart.”
“We knew the first game was going to be really tough, especially because there would be something special for the team,” Maruna said. “We had a lot of emotions with the plaque and we didn’t want to let anyone down. Today we didn’t want to let coach Stanton down and the vision she had for the team.”
“The memorial at the beginning was something really special and something we’ll cherish for a longtime,” Pieroni said. “Looking at the plaque will always be a reminder that she's always with us, no matter what, and that’s really reassuring.”