A power hitter at heart, NIU recruit Aubriella Garza pitches in for Oswego. ‘I like being in those two situations.’

College can wait.

There will be time when pitching is secondary for Oswego junior Aubriella Garza.

But this?

This was the crosstown rivalry game Thursday against Oswego East.

“It was pretty awesome, actually,” said Garza, the Northern Illinois recruit. “I really enjoy pitching. It’s just so fun to have control of the ball on the mound. I like being in those tough situations.

“Like for instance, that last inning with tying and lead runs on base and we had two outs and needed one more. I love those high-pressure moments.”

It showed as a steady rain shower that started when the Wolves’ rally began in the seventh inning had briefly subsided.

Garza got senior leadoff hitter Ronnie Craft to pop up a short fly ball to second base in preserving a suddenly tense 9-8 victory for the Panthers, who had led 6-0 and 8-1 after the first two innings.

And it was Garza who highlighted the early action on offense.

In the first inning, Garza boosted her program record for career home runs with a three-run blast, her sixth of the season. Sophomore outfielder Savannah Page hit a solo homer, her second.

Garza’s three hits included an RBI single in the sixth inning that proved to be the winner.

The decision capped a stretch of three Southwest Prairie Conference games in four days for both teams. Sophomore ace Jaelynn Anthony already had pitched two outings for Oswego (9-6, 3-2).

“The girls have confidence in her,” Oswego coach Paul Netzel said of Garza. “East is a good hitting team, but we figured we’d take our chances. We had a nice cushion, and Aubriella did that sometimes last year.”

Garza’s heroics overshadowed the strong relief work of senior Nicole Stone, who worked the final five innings for the Wolves (9-9, 2-3).

“It was hard,” Oswego East coach Sarah Davies-Dymanus said. “She threw 139 pitches the day before. For her to execute as well as she did, that’s awesome. She’ll get a lot of time off after this.

“I was proud of the way we came back — a lot of teams wouldn’t. There’s a lot of game left after the first inning, a lot of opportunities to still score, and we did that.”

Garza, who holds several of the program’s hitting records, credited a better diet and 5 a.m. lifting sessions with Iowa-bound catcher Kiyah Chavez, a junior, and junior outfielder Natalie Muellner for improved strength.

She’s replaced the lunchtime sandwich bar at school with salads.

“Well, unless it’s like today, when I had run out of salads,” she said with a grin.

Chavez said Garza told teammates “I got this” before returning to the circle for the seventh.

“She’s been through it a few times,” Chavez said. “She had the same situation happen freshman year, pitching against Oswego East here in the rain.”

That time, Garza remembered getting a strikeout for the final out, although it was freezing rain.

“It’s why I wear my sunglasses, even in the rain,” she said. “It was so bad I got hit with the icy stuff right in the eyeball.”

She said her philosophy in tight situations is to hit her catcher’s mitt as hard as she can and not allow any thoughts about an opposing hitter’s strengths get in her head.

“One of my favorite things about her is the way she thinks through situations like this,” Chavez said of the tense finish. “A lot of us could learn from the way she continues to drive.

“Anyone could get nervous pitching in that rain. I mean, it was getting close and they’re a good hitting team. The way Aubriella continues to attack and persevere, it’s amazing.”