MICHIGAN CITY — On Senior Night at Marquette, Lauren McConnell did a little bit of everything to help her Blazers get past a stubborn LaCrosse team.
She pitched a three-hit shutout with nine strikeouts, hit a two-run home run, and made a couple of nice plays in the field as the Blazers won 5-0.
And she might not have been at her best.
"The last time I pitched was about five days ago, so I think I was a little rusty," McConnell said. "I thought I did fine just getting back into things."
Coach Shaun McConnell agreed.
"The pitching was a little off. I figured Lauren would have done better tonight, but we haven't had a game in like five or six days, so maybe a little rusty was the problem."
Marquette's bats were not as rusty.
In the bottom of the first, Olivia Hackett walked, stole second and was standing on third with two out when Summer Johnson launched a home run over the fence in straight-away center to make it 2-0.
"That was Summer's first home run for us, and she hit it pretty well," coach McConnell said. "She didn't even know she hit it out so she was running full speed around the bases and I had to tell her to slow down."
Two innings later, Ally McConnell led off with a bunt single, and was on third following an error and a groundout when Lauren McConnell crushed a ball to left center to make it 4-0.
"I didn't think it was going out," she said of her eighth homer of the season. "I thought it was going to be a pop-up."
Her coach, being an ambitious father, wanted more. "Lauren hit that one, but I kind of wanted another one when she was up with the bases loaded. But they kind of jammed her ..."
The Blazers final run came in the fifth, when Abbie Grusak's sacrifice fly plated Hackett, who had walked again.
For LaCrosse, it was a game of missed chances on a night when they hit McConnell better than many of her previous opponents.
The Tigers left a runner on second in the first after Dana Wherret was hit in the knee by a pitch. In the second, there were Tigers on second and third with nobody out after Destiny Harbaugh singled, Hannah Leffew was safe on an error, and both advanced on a passed ball. McConnell then struck out the side.
LaCrosse also had two on in the third on a single by Hope Klemz and another Marquette error, but McConnell induced a grounder to the mound to end that threat.
"The girls played pretty well against a very good pitcher," assistant coach Tara Walden said of the Tigers, who were without head coach (and LaCrosse athletic director) Dave Amor, who stayed home to oversee the title game of the PCC Softball Tournament.
"She's a tough one to hit against, but we did pretty well. We just need to hit the gaps."
Walden said facing a pitcher of McConnell's caliber is good for the the 11-9 Tigers with sectionals next week.
"Seeing a pitcher like that is good for us. We'll be seeing some of that in the sectionals, though maybe not quite as fast as her."
For LaCrosse, Klemz had a decent game on the mound in a losing effort, allowing the five runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts.
"She's a great pitcher," Walden said of the senior. "We're gonna be sad to see her go at the end of the season."
Coach McConnell agreed. "We know that pitcher and she's a good one. She kept a couple of us at bay for a while."
He said the Blazers (11-9) are coming around just in time for sectionals.
"We had a couple of lapses on defense tonight, but in our last several games we didn't make an error. There were only three strikeouts against Mishawaka so the defense had to be sharp.
"I think we're ready for sectionals. We just have to put it all together. If they play their game and Lauren is on the mound, I think we're gonna be a tough team to beat."
Lauren McConnell expects that to happen.
"We have a few things to fix here and there, but overall we're doing a lot better. I think that we do have it in us to go to state, or at least win the sectional. We're starting to come together, knowing our role, knowing what we have to do."
Reach Jeff Mayes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 214-4170. Follow him on Twitter @midnightdog.
MARQUETTE 5, LACROSSE 0
LaCrosse 000 000 0 — 0 3 3
Marquette 202 010 0 — 5 7 2
WP — Lauren McConnell (7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 9 K, 0 BB, 1 HBP). LP — Hope Klemz (6 IP, 5 R, 7 H, 7 K, 3 BB, 1 HBP). HR – Summer Johnson, Lauren McConnell. SB – Olivia Hackett 2, Sara Molina, Bri Moyer.
Records: Marquette 11-9, LaCrosse 11-9.