OREGON — Three outs away from school history, Ashlynn Hemm wasn't to be denied.
Riverdale High School's senior softball ace focused and 10 pitches later, the Rams were sectional champs.
Behind Hemm's second postseason no-hitter, the Rams secured their first softball sectional championship with a 3-0 victory over hosting Oregon here at Oregon Park West on Thursday evening.
“This is super exciting,” said Riverdale senior catcher Hailey VenHuizen. “This is the first time that the Rams softball team has won sectionals ever. … This is all new, but we're not done yet; we're still going.”
The victory moved the 18-5 fourth-seeded Rams into supersectional play on Monday. Riverdale will play second-seeded Joliet Catholic, a 10-0 Thursday winner over top-seeded Manteno. Monday's game, scheduled for 4 p.m., will be at Rosemont Stadium.
Even with the stakes a little higher on Thursday, it was just another game for Hemm, who struck out 16 and walked just one — that in the first inning. She only allowed one other runner, that on a hit batter in the sixth.
“I always put pressure on myself to do my best,” said Hemm, who has recorded 51 strikeouts in three postseason games so far. “We always go out with the same intensity, no matter who the team is. It's great to have the support and have the defense behind me and the offense since we need the runs.”
With Hemm mowing down the Hawks (24-7), the Rams didn't need much offense. They got all they needed in the fourth when a pair of runs scored. An insurance run in the sixth all but sealed the deal.
Oregon batters were trying anything they could, too. Three of Hemm's strikeouts came on bunt attempts with two strikes. Thirteen of the 16 whiffs came swinging.
“Her stuff is so filthy,” said Oregon coach Nate Rogers. “I don't think we've ever seen a pitcher that good — especially not this year and we've played a lot of good teams and play in a good conference.”
Hemm strikeouts recorded the first 10 Hawks outs. Four of the other five outs were bunts handled cleanly by the Rams defense.
“When we finally got a ball in play, it was like 'Oh, my gosh we finally got a ball in play,'” said Rogers.
And seeing those handled cleanly was a joy for Riverdale coach Randy Creen.
“Earlier in the season, that was probably one of our weaknesses,” said Creen of the defense against bunts. “But we kept working on it and working on it and you seen the results tonight.”
The Rams broke open a scoreless game in the fourth inning. Alivia Bark delivered the first hit of the game, a solid one-out single down the line in left. Laken Larson followed with a single to left and both runners moved up when a pickoff throw went past the first baseman.
Regan Walston then executed a perfect suicide squeeze bunt back to the pitcher that scored Bark from third with the first run. Larson later scored when Hemm reached on an infield error with two outs, but she was called out for coaches interference when the overthrown ball hit a Riverdale coach in the dugout opening.
The Rams then chased Oregon starting pitcher Mia Trampel in the sixth with four straight base hits — two of those from Bark and Larson, who were both 2-for-3. That led to leadoff batter Sydney Haas scoring. Lena Trampel relieved and left the bases loaded, but the damage was done.
Especially with Hemm cruising.
That dominance is something those in the Rams' camp have become accustomed to seeing from Hemm.
“She was amazing,” said Ven Huizen, who called pitches for her classmate. “I give so many props to her. She was hitting her spots and her riseball was on fire. We are usually on the same page with what she should throw and we were working well with that.”
And they hope to keep it going for three more games.