May 27, 2012
The battle ware or “smear,” as Carmel Catholic pitcher Nicole Bitter calls the black face makeup that she and her softball teammates often rub on, is meant for intimidation purposes.
“For this game,” Bitter said of Saturday’s Class 4A Carmel regional final against Mundelein, “everyone was like, ‘We need to be as a team. We’re all going to do it.’ ”
They didn’t need it.
Bitter was sweet, painting the black with her pitches, and line-drive-hitting freshman Jenny Behan was equally impressive against the third-seeded Mustangs. Bitter’s 1-hitter and Behan’s 3 hits, including her eighth home run, lifted Carmel to a 2-0 win, its first regional championship since 2008 and a spot in Wednesday’s Cary-Grove sectional semifinal against McHenry.
“She came and pitched really well today,” Mundelein coach Brett Wilhelm said of Bitter. “She kept the ball down. I haven’t seen a pitcher all year that changes speeds like that. She did a good job of getting ahead in the count, and she had our batters guessing all day.”
Carmel (18-18) smeared its “smear” in the shape of large upside “L’s” under each eye. Maybe the intimidation objective made sense for the petite Bitter and the braces-wearing Behan, considering the likable young players don’t look intimidating at all. They wear their game faces well, however.
While Behan hit the ball hard each of her three times up, Bitter carried a no-hitter into the sixth. Mundelein’s Chloe Peterson led off the game by reaching on an error and later stole second. But Bitter was unfazed, striking out the final two batters, Hailey Morelli and Alex Hemmer.
Hemmer, who’s a travel ball teammate of Bitter with the 18-U Stingers, had 2 homers and 8 RBI in the Mustangs’ regional semifinal against Libertyville.
“I was trying to mix it up and throw some strikes,” Bitter said. “I just had to count on my defense.”
Bitter, who’s not necessarily a strikeout pitcher, fanned the side in the third.
“She pitched lights-out softball today,” Carmel coach Jason Raymond said. “She was hitting her spots, and her screwball was really working. She was really getting that ball inside on their hitters.”
Maddie Zazas got the only hit for Mundelein (16-19) with one out in the sixth, as her double down the left-field line landed just fair. But Bitter got Morelli to ground out and Hemmer to pop up to end the threat with Carmel clinging to a 1-0 lead.
The Corsairs had taken the lead in the fourth when Sally Snarski (2-for-3) singled home Kathleen Felicelli. The hosts had the bases loaded with none out, but Mundelein pitcher Molly Ellett retired the next three hitters without the ball leaving the infield.
In the bottom of the sixth, Behan gave Carmel its insurance run by lining a 3-1 pitch from Ellett over the fence in center field.
“I played with her since I was about 7,” Behan, a Mundelein resident, said of Mundelein’s ace. “Her dad was actually my coach all the way up until I was 10.”
Bitter walked Maria DeVito leading off the seventh, but got the next three hitters, including the last one on a called-third strike.
Bitter finished with 9 strikeouts and 3 walks.
“She’s a great team player,” Behan said. “I feel like she knows we got her back, so she can throw strikes and we got her. It’s probably one of the best (games) she’s pitched this entire year.”
Raymond credited assistant coaches Shane Schueneman, Ryan Hunter, Mitch Bitto and Jordyn Gaza.
“Our coaching staff did a great job of preparing the girls with a great game plan,” Raymond said. “They just did a great job of scouting Mundelein. They’re a tremendous offensive team.”
Mundelein graduates only one senior, albeit a big one, in Hemmer. Freshmen Zazas and DeVito started at shortstop and second base, respectively, all season.
“The future is bright (with) a decent class coming in,” Wilhelm said. “We’ll see. Hopefully we win one of these (regional titles) one day.”