The Carthage softball team is one win away from securing a berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.

The Reds (30-14) continued their impressive postseason run with a 2-0 victory over College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin rival Illinois Wesleyan in the opener of their best-of-three NCAA Tournament Super Regional on Friday in Bloomington, Ill. It marked the third consecutive shutout win for Carthage, which has outscored its opponents 16-1 in four postseason games.

“We’re playing well as a team right now and had just enough hitting today to win the game,” Carthage coach Amy Gillmore said. “The kids are playing with confidence and they’re relaxed. They aren’t playing with pressure or anything like that.”

Junior standout pitcher Stefanie Guercio (22-4) tossed a three-hitter Friday, striking out six and walking three over seven dominant innings. It marked her 10th shutout of the season and broke the program’s single-season record. Her performance was boosted by Carthage’s error-free defense.

“She pitched another good game for us,” Gillmore said. “Wesleyan has some really good hitters, but Stefanie kept them off balance and we played really good defense behind her.”

Aside from the sixth inning, the Titans were unable to get a runner in scoring position.

Carthage’s offense did all of its damage in the top of the sixth inning, scoring twice to snap a scoreless tie. Alexandra Millett led off with a single and pinch-runner Brooke Byas moved to third base on Naomi Alonzo’s one-out single.

Former Bradford standout Ellie Bernero followed with a single to score Byas. Alonzo moved to third base on the play and scored on an error by center fielder Jillian Runyon for a 2-0 lead.

Wesleyan mounted its only serious offensive threat in the bottom of the sixth. After Toni Tortorella led off with a double for the Titans’ lone extra-base hit, Guercio struck out Runyon and Mia Massaro was thrown out after trying to reach on a bunt. Wesleyan loaded the bases on back-to-back walks to Sam Berghoff and Shelby Funk, but Guercio escaped the jam when Colleen Palczynski fouled out to first base.

After the Titans put the tying run on base in the seventh inning when Hayley Earl led off with a single, Brittany Murphy flied out to second baseman Donna Stevens. Julie Josten lined out to right fielder Kelsey Domagala, who threw Earl out at first base for a game-ending double play.

Guercio outdueled Ally Wiegand, who allowed two runs (one earned) and six hits while striking out 10 and walking none.

Bernero went 2-for-3 and knocked in a run to lead Carthage’s offense. Millett, Stevens, Alonzo and Brooke Sefcik each added a hit.

The Reds, who have an 11-8 all-time NCAA Tournament record, will take on the Titans in Game 2 at 11 a.m. today in Bloomington. A victory will advance Carthage to the World Series, which will be held May 23-28 in Tyler, Texas. A loss will force a decisive Game 3 today.

“We’re going to still have our hands full today, but it’s really important to win that first game,” Gillmore said. “I’ll take this team any day because they’re going to fight to the finish every time.

“Advancing to the World Series would be huge for our program.”

Scott Koker

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