BLOOMINGTON — For the first time since 2013 and only the second time in school history, the St. Bede softball team is in the IHSA State Tournament.
The Lady Bruins defeated Villa Grove 5-0 in the Class 1A Illinois Wesleyan Super Sectional Monday in Bloomington to move on to state May 31 and June 1 at Eastside Centre in East Peoria.
“It feels amazing. Since coach (Rob) Ruppert came into the program, we’ve been saying that we’re going to go to state,” St. Bede senior shortstop Maggie Sons said. “It’s my last year and I love how we made it happen. It was a team effort and we made it happen.
“Our coaches scouted Villa Park in their game the other day (against Salt Fork in a sectional final). They got a great scouting report. Kudos to our coaches. They told us she threw outside. We did what we had to do and made it happen.”
The scouting report definitely did St. Bede some favors.
SBA (20-9) connected 10 times with four of them being extra base hits in three doubles and a triple.
Contrary to the Lady Bruins previous postseason games where the offense didn’t get going until the fourth or fifth inning, SBA started swinging as soon as Blue Devils pitcher Jordyn Ray began throwing.
“It’s actually crazy. I’ve been waiting four years for this,” SBA senior first baseman Gianna Elias said. “We were kind of thrown off at the beginning of the season and I kind of lost the hope. Now it’s back and I’m so excited. We have really formed together as a team and you can really tell everything has changed.
“We just need to get our offense going. We usually get it going around the fourth inning and then we’re fine. We need to do it a little earlier so we’re not as scared.”
Sons led off with a single, but she was thrown out on a steal attempt at second base. After a strikeout for two outs in the inning, Elias hit a single and she was brought in on a Hayley Short double for the 1-0 lead after the first inning.
While the offense was doing its job, so was St. Bede starting pitcher Abbie May.
The ace struck out 11 Blue Devils’ batters after striking out 17, 17 and 12 in the last three contests for the Lady Bruins. Against Villa Grove, she walked one batter (in the first), gave up three hits — two in the fifth and one in the sixth — and didn’t give up a single run in the seven-inning victory.
“In a game like this, you have to have people step up, want to make plays and want to be the hero,” Ruppert said. “We had several of them today. Abbie did a great job on the mound. Ellyn (Nowakowski) came through with a big hit. Charleigh (Holmes) had a couple of hits. Maggie had a couple of hits. Gianna had a couple of hits.
“We came into this game after scouting them. We knew where they were going to pitch. We worked on it in practice and the girls executed again. That’s all we can ask.”
The second and third didn’t see any run numbers turn on the scoreboard, but the Lady Bruins were back at it again in the fifth inning.
Holmes, the No. 9 hitter, led off with a double and Sons laid down a sacrifice bunt to move her to second. Holmes took third on a bunt by Claire Morrow, who reached first on a fielder’s choice as Villa Grove threw to third to try to pick off the runner in scoring position.
Elias hit an RBI single to score Holmes and Nowakowski connected on a two-RBI double to bring in Morrow and Elias for a 4-0 advantage over Villa Grove (24-13).
“We put the ball in play. We hit the ball right to them,” Blue Devils coach Jeana Block said. “Their pitcher (May), could spin the ball. I didn’t think she was moving very much, but the kids kept telling me, ‘It’s spinning, it’s spinning.’ We got underneath it way too much. We fouled her off. We had her timed, but we couldn’t seem to get around on it.
“Jordyn hit her spots. She threw fine. I think they scouted her and they knew she was going to throw outside because they adjusted to her outside ball. On a couple of them, we call them, ‘The River’ and that’s way outside of the zone. They hit them to center field. They were expecting it. They found the gap more often. They’re a good team. (May) threw well and they hit well.”
SBA scored its fifth and final run in the bottom of the seventh, as Ryan Stoudt hit a single and was brought in on a Sons’ triple.
The Lady Bruins committed the only two errors of the game in the top of the seventh, but the defense and May tightened up to preserve the shutout victory on their way to the state tournament.
“We have two more to go. We told the girls at the beginning of the year our goal is obviously the state title,” Ruppert said. “We worked ourselves backwards: super sectional, sectional, regional and conference. We didn’t win conference, but we got the regional, the sectional and the super.
“We’re super excited. We’ve worked hard all year. The coaches have put in a lot of effort. The girls have bought into what we teach them and what we ask them to do. They’re executing and I’m very proud of them. I’m proud of my coaching staff.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.