Perry sophomore Johanna Diw had a night to remember, and while the future recollections of her exploits Thursday will bring a smile to the Jayette softball team and their fans, it is understandable if the memory of her six-RBI outing generates an entirely different reaction from Greene County and their followers.
Diw not only hit for the cycle — a single, double, triple and home run — she completed the rare feat in even rarer fashion, producing each kind of hit in ascending order for a “natural” cycle. Beating incomprehensibly small odds, her natural included a grand slam as her home run, helping Perry post a 13-7 win over a determined Greene County squad in their Class 4A Region 7 First Round battle.
The game started at 5:30 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. due to fears of inclement weather, but that did little to knock either team off their offensive rhythm. Softballs flew everywhere — including over the fence — at the PAC as the teams combined for 20 runs on 23 hits, including four doubles, a triple and three home runs.
Perry (22-12) was on the board first when lead-off batter Diw produced an excuse-me single that traveled all of 10 feet and which she beat out for a hit. She scored later in the frame on a Rachel Kinney bloop single which landed just past second base in short center field.
The visitors on the scoreboard, the Jayettes added two runs to their total in the top of the second when Maddy Jans singled and scored on Diw’s double. A follow-up double from Sid Vancil plated Diw for a 3-0 Perry lead.
Greene County (16-14) had been no-hit in a 9-0 loss at the PAC June 6, a game in which Emma Olejniczak tossed six innings and Vancil one.
The Rams showed repeatedly that they were vastly improved since then, sending hard-hit balls around the diamond throughout the game. Megan Carey singled and scored on a Hannah Promes base hit in the third to cut the lead to 3-1, margin that might have been further reduced had not second baseman alertly tagged out Carleigh Paup — who had singled to start the frame — after the Ram speedster slid past second base on an attempted steal.
The sharp defensive play was the first of several for the Jayettes, with Diw making several solid plays at shortstop while Kinney came up with a diving catch down the line in right field.
Perry has cut their number of total errors by one-third, having committed just 43 in through 34 games after hurting themselves with 64 errors in 34 total games last year.
“A lot of that has to do with us spending much more time on fundamentals in practice,” head coach Tina Kenney said. “We have stressed diving for balls and create pressure-play scenarios so when the situation comes up in a game they will now how to handle it.”
Diw agreed, saying “We have one new drill in particular that is a real hassle. We all hate it, but it has made us all sharper so we realize it is worth it.”
Maddie West walked and scored on Diw’s triple in the fourth, a hit which knocked Promes from the ring for reliever Jenna Beyers. An outfield error with Vancil batting sent Diw home, with a series of wild pitches eventually allowing Vancil to score as the Jayette lead swelled to 6-1.
The Rams loaded the bases in their half of the fourth with a single, two walks and fielder’s choice. Carey drove in run with her two-out single, with Sydney Koch clearing the bases with a double that shrank Greene County’s deficit to one, at 6-5.
Jans raced to second on a dropped third strike and an overthrow of first base with one out in the fifth. She moved to third on a ground out and was still there after West and Diw walked (no at-bat is charged for a walk, leaving her chance for a ‘natural’ cycle alive). Vancil came through again, with her single scoring Jans as Perry posted a 7-5 edge.
Megan Durbin’s ringing solo blast to deep right field in the bottom of the inning brought the Perry lead back to one run for the second time and had the Ram portion of what may be the biggest crowd to watch a softball game at the PAC feeling positive.
Walks to Kinney and Olejniczak and a Hegstrom sacrifice bunt started the fateful Perry sixth, with Kinney scoring on a wild pitch. Jans walked and moved up to second base, with Huntington reaching on an infield hit to load the bases.
Diw stepped to the plate after a fly out left the bases packed and promptly ripped a towering blast over the fence just to the right of dead center field for a grand slam and a 12-6 lead.
Perry has now launched 17 home runs on the season, with Diw joining Vancil and Hegstrom in having swatted grand slams.
“I was thinking about it,” Diw said. “I was joking in the dugout as girls kept getting on, saying I hoped I had a chance to hit one (a grand slam) and I just went up there with confidence and it happened.”
Had Diw not pulled her feat, the offensive star for Perry would have been Vancil, who followed the bomb with her second double. Alyssa Kruger walked for the second time, with Beyers and Promes switching spots again, but not before a wild pitch allowed Vancil to score.
The sophomore had two doubles and a single, scored twice and raised her team-leading RBI total to 38 in the win. She had five total RBIs last season.
“I am not scared anymore,” Vancil said when asked the difference between this season and last. “Last year if I came up with runners on base I would think ‘oh no, I might strikeout and leave them there’ and now I go up there thinking about what it is I need to do to get them in.”
Vancil broke her favorite bat a few weeks ago, but the switch to a new stick has done nothing to slow her torrid hitting.
“I like my new bat just fine,” she laughed.
Despite trailing 13-6 the Rams refused to yield, with Paup crunching a solo shot in the sixth and Carey following with a single, but Olejniczak tallied a strike out and induced a pop fly to escape without further damage.
Olejniczak needed just nine pitches to retire the side on strikes in the seventh and send Perry to Norwalk Saturday, where they will face the host Warriors at 7 p.m. Norwalk rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth to slip past visiting Perry, 3-2, May 27.
Promes went a combined 4.2 frames in the ring, allowing five runs (four earned) on eight hits and two walks. Beyers thres 2.1 innings, yielding eight runs (six earned) on four hits and seven walks. Promes had one strikeout and Beyers three.
Olejniczak surrendered seven runs on 11 hits and three walks while striking out seven to raise her season total to 267, second-best in 4A.
How rare was Diw’s feat if it were compared in relation to Major League Baseball? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been only 309 cycles hit since 1882. (There have been 288 no-hitters). Of those, only 14 have been “natural” cycles, and of those, eight are “natural” with a grand slam. The last to do so was Texas Rangers outfielder Gary Matthews, Jr., who accomplished the rarity September 13, 2006. There have been only six “reverse naturals” but one just occurred July 2, when Cleveland’s Rajai Davis accomplished the feat against Toronto.
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