WHEATFIELD — Kankakee Valley ace pitcher MaryKate Shultz faced 21 Andrean hitters Wednesday night.
Fourteen of them got nothing and returned to their dugout. Seven others were retired on groundouts and fly balls, giving Shultz her first-ever perfect game in a crucial 3-0 Northwest Crossroads Conference win over the 59ers.
It is believed to be just the second perfect game in KV’s long history, with Jessica Dobson completing one in the mid-2000s.
Shultz went seven innings, striking out 13 to give her 63 strikeouts on the season. Shultz said it was apparent before the first pitch that her teammates were ready for the Niners.
“Our whole team had great energy tonight. We just came out and fed off each other’s energy,” she said.
Shultz’s strategy was to get ahead of each batter and force them to chase her pitches.
“I know they are super-aggressive hitters, and it was great to see our team’s hard work pay off. They just made plays behind me,” she said.
Shultz and sophomore catcher Abbi Wilhelm were locked in Wednesday, dazzling Andrean hitters with a mix of pitches.
“It was a mixture; changing speeds and some movement,” Shultz said of her historic outing.
It is a remarkable feat considering Shultz hasn’t been in a high school circle for two seasons prior to this year. In 2019, she was laid up with a fracture in her back.
She made a full recovery by the start of the 2019 fall season.
“I had some amazing doctors at Rush (Medical Center in Illinois), and I feel better than I’ve ever felt before,” Shultz said.
In 2020, the state of Indiana shut down spring sports due to COVID-19 concerns, denying the Kougars a shot at another successful post-season.
It was unclear what this year’s team, which features a few veterans with a handful of first- and second-year players, would be able to achieve. The Kougars are off to a 5-1 start under first-year coach Amanda Suarez, including 3-0 in the NCC.
“We have a younger team, so we kind of get overlooked because we don’t have those nine big players we did in past years,” Shultz said. “We just play a tough defense, keep the bats hot and do what we need to do to come out with the ‘W.’
“We (as seniors) were hoping for four strong years, but then you realize you missed that year, so we’re making up for lost time.”
Shultz also had a strong game offensively, going 2 for 3 with a double. Wilhelm was also 2 for 3 and Carly Basham, a senior, added two hits, including a triple, and scored a run.
Hayley Alexander has the Kougars’ lone RBI, which was all Shultz needed.
KV scored two runs in the first inning and a single run in the second against Andrean starter Caleigh Doffin — who scattered seven hits over six innings with eight strikeouts and two walks — before all eyes turned to Shultz to finish it out.
“We always love a nail biter,” she said. “I think my mom doesn’t. Our parents were definitely on the edge of their seats.”