Serena Goodwill came of age in the biggest game of her short high school softball career Wednesday.
And because she did, No. 9 sectional tournament seed Evanston spilled No. 8 Lincoln Park 7-2 in the Class 4A regional opener at Oz Park in Chicago and advanced to the regional championship game on Thursday. The Wildkits will face top-seeded Whitney Young in that matchup.
Goodwill struck out 15, just 2 shy of the ETHS single game record and a likely record for a postseason game, considering the program’s lack of success in the Illinois High School Association state tournament series until recently. She fanned every Lion in the starting lineup at least once and scattered 6 hits. Goodwill walked 3 and both runs scored by the hosts were unearned.
Chloe Haack smashed a 2-run homer and freshman Lexi Lennon contributed a key 2-run single as the Wildkits totaled 11 hits and sent Lincoln Park to the sidelines with a 14-6 record.
Evanston, now 10-11 overall, rode the strong right arm of the freshman right-hander to one of its best team performances of the season. That 11-hit total didn’t include at least 3 blasts that would have been over the fence at the ETHS field — including one by Goodwill — but Oz Park has no fences in place.
Goodwill’s improvement, especially over the last 4 weeks of the season, has been apparent to all of the members of the ETHS coaching staff. But her earned run average has hovered close to the 5.00 mark in her first season of high school softball and she’s still a work in progress in the circle.
Goodwill put it all together to tame the Lions. She fanned 5 in a row at one point early in the contest and showed resolve in the circle after the hosts tied the score at 2-2 after Haack’s long blast over the center fielder’s head had powered the Kits to an early advantage. It was Haack’s 8th round-tripper of the season, 1 short of the school record.
Lincoln Park’s runs crossed on a Goodwill wild pitch and an error in the 4th inning. How did the hurler respond? She whipped a called third strike past the Lions’ leadoff hitter Emily Alvarez and retired 7 of the next 8 hitters after that.
The losers mustered two meaningless singles in the 7th before Goodwill finished them off.
“Serafina did a very good job today,” praised Evanston head coach Amy Gonzales. “She kept her composure, and good for her for that. She’s finally found her groove with her catcher (Katy Patton) and her pitching coach (Shannon Roney), and I think her comfort level is much better now. She’s a confident kid, and she has success when she does just what she needs to do.
“I think this is one of the best all-around games we’ve played as a team. We made an adjustment about the 3rd inning (on offense) because we noticed the first pitch was always a (flat) fastball, and that helped our offense.”
Goodwill said the adjustment to the high school level, and the fact that Roney calls most of the pitches from the ETHS bench, led her to play mind games with herself in the circle.
Now there are no more mind games — except the ones she wins against opposing hitters.
“At the beginning of the season I was thinking too much between pitches, and not working as fast,” she said. “Now I try not to think too much, and that’s had a better outcome for me. I guess I thought I had to break down every single pitch I threw in my head, and that would help, but instead I just had to trust my muscle memory.
“The movement on all of my pitches was really good today. My screwball was probably my best pitch today.”
Goodwill has pitched almost every inning of every game at the varsity level this spring, a tough task for any first-year hurler. In fact, Roney had to remind her again Wednesday that the burden of advancing to the regional championship game wasn’t just on the right-hander’s shoulders.
“I went out there in the middle of the game to tell her to relax, that she should remember she didn’t have to do it all by herself. Then she took a deep breath and she was OK,” Roney pointed out.
“I thought she did really well today. She got out of some tough situations. We’ve been working all year on getting hitters to swing at her pitches, not the ones they want. I always try to have a constant dialogue with her and KP (catcher Patton) about how are you feeling, what’s working, what’s not, the umpire’s tendencies.
“With the short season this year we had to hit the ground running. It’s a learning experience and pitchers know themselves best. She definitely has more presence out there now. Whatever happens, if a couple of runners get on base or something, now she just says whatever, I’ll go after the next hitter. Her mentality has gotten so much stronger. She’s really been fun to work with, and I’ve enjoyed watching her come into her own.”
Evanston staged a 2-out rally to take the lead in the top of the 6th. Patton’s line single kept the inning alive, Cristal Rodriguez reached on an error by second baseman Andrea Ortega, and the left-handed hitting Lennon went after the first pitch and flipped a single into short left field.
The Kits tacked on three insurance runs in the 7th as Eva Eiseman ripped her second hit of the contest, a leadoff single, and Haack singled, Goodwill launched a run-scoring triple, and Patton delivered an RBI single.