ROSEMONT – McHenry softball coach John DiFrancesca hopes that, as the weather warms, so too will the Warriors' bats.
Scoring runs has been an early-season issue for McHenry and having to face a Carl Sandburg team that has won sectional titles in eight of the past nine seasons was challenge Tuesday at the Dome in Rosemont. Ultimately, the Warriors only managed four hits in a 5-0 loss against Sandburg.
"It's very sporadic and chilly," DiFrancesca said of his offense. "We haven't strung anything together yet. We're obviously trying to find our stride. It's not quite there yet."
The Warriors (0-2) were headed for trouble in the top of the first inning when Sandburg (1-0) loaded the bases with nobody out despite failing to record a hit. But McHenry pitcher Kristin Koepke struck out the next two Eagles batters and got a fly out to end the inning preserving the scoreless tie.
McHenry had a great opportunity to take the lead during the bottom of the first. Sophomore Alex Martens led off with a triple, however, the Warriors couldn't advance her as the next three batters were retired in order.
"Even though we had a couple of extra-base hits, they're individual," DiFrancesca said. "We're not putting anything together. We're still in need of fine tuning. I know it's early, but we need to fine tune some things."
The Eagles scored the game's first run on a wild pitch to take a 1-0 lead in the second. They added another run in the third on a bases-loaded, no-out walk. Koepke (0-2) was able to limit the damage, though, getting Sandburg's No. 8 hitter to hit into a double play and then induced a grounder to escape with the Eagles only leading 2-0.
Sandburg put the game out of reach in a three-run fifth inning thanks to five consecutive hits to begin the inning.
"Our strategy was to hit spots and make sure that if they were going to get base hits that we weren't going to give it to them easily, nothing over the plate," Koepke said. "We just work through (jams) one pitch at a time."
The Warriors struggled to solve Sandburg starting pitcher Sarah Herold. Herold (1-0) retired nine consecutive batters following Martens' lead-off hit until Dana Walsh hit a double to start the fourth.
But again the Warriors couldn't advance her, and Herold got the next three batters to fly out to end the inning. Herold struck out eight batters and gave up three hits in five innings while not walking a batter.
"Our hitters today hung around and battled, which made a big difference, I think," Sandburg coach Jim Fabianski said. "By hanging around, they're seeing a lot of pitches."
The Warriors' lineup is still taking shape through two games. They're currently missing four players, who are on spring break vacation, and potentially a couple of them could be starters. DiFrancesca is using this time to see exactly what McHenry has.
"We're sputtering, and we're looking for that rhythm that hasn't quite come yet," DiFrancesca said.