EAST PEORIA — St. Bede senior Maggie Sons and her teammates weren’t happy with how they played Friday, so they plan to make the most of their opportunity to play again today.
After committing four errors and only recording three hits in a 5-1 loss to Illini Bluffs in a Class 1A state semifinal Friday, the Lady Bruins look to bounce back when they take on Calhoun in the third-place game at 9 this morning.
“This leaves a dirty taste in our mouth,” Sons said. “We’re not going to let it stick around. We’re going to go out there (today) and play our best.”
Not only do Sons and her teammates hope to erase the feeling of Friday’s loss, but they look to make school history in the process.
A victory today would be the first state tournament win by a female team in school history and make the 2019 Lady Bruins the highest-finishing female team in school history.
The only other female team to earn a state trophy for St. Bede was the 2013 softball team that placed fourth.
“Our mentality now is to beat an old school record,” Sons said. “We might as well get third instead of fourth place and beat that record. That’s really pushing us to win the third-place game.”
Calhoun lost 2-0 to Goreville in 12 innings in Friday’s second semifinal.
“It was definitely a tough loss and I’m a little frustrated,” senior Abbie May said. “We still have a chance to be the first softball team at St. Bede to get third place, so I think we should still be proud of that. We have to regroup and come back (today) with a clear mindset.”
Postseason games often come with nerves or jitters, which get worse the deeper a team advances.
But the Lady Bruins found a way to combat that.
During warmups, the Lady Bruins play hacky sack — an idea brought to the Lady Bruins by Sons and Hayley Sack, who both do it with their travel teams.
“You’re nervous before the state tournament, so to loosen up our bodies, we play hacky sack,” Sons said. “It started with our travel team and we brought it to the high school team. It loosens us up and we have fun before the game starts. We’ve been doing it during the postseason.”
The Lady Bruins aren’t quite as good at hacky sack as they are at softball.
“We’re not that good at it, but we’re working on it,” May joked.
STRIKEOUT NO. 200
May didn’t realize she was closing in on a milestone entering Friday’s game as she had 193 strikeouts on the season.
May struck out Illini Bluffs freshman Kristen Graham looking at a changeup in the sixth inning for her 200th of the season.
May finished with eight strikeouts Friday.
“Did I really,” May said when told she hit 200 strikeouts. “I didn’t know that. That’s good I guess.
“I honestly tried not to pay attention to the stats this year. I tried to keep it out of my head, but that’s good.”
HONORING THE LADY BRUINS
The team will be met this afternoon, likely in Oglesby, and there will be a parade back to St. Bede where there will be a celebration in the gym.
The time of the parade and celebration will be determined based on when the game ends.
WIN NO. 500
Friday’s win was special for Illini Bluffs coach Nancy Meyer not only because it put the Tigers in a state championship game for the first time, but it also gave Meyer a milestone.
Illini Bluffs’ 5-1 win over St. Bede was the 500th in Meyer’s 25-year career leading the Tigers.
“It means we’re playing in the state championship and that’s the most important thing,” said Meyer, who is 500-166. “The 500, it’s a number, but it’s more important these kids get to play in the state championship.”
Illini Bluffs freshman pitcher Kierston McCoy didn’t perform like a freshman Friday.
After giving up a no doubt home run to St. Bede senior Gianna Elias with two outs in the first inning, McCoy buckled down.
She allowed just two more hits the rest of the game while finishing with five strikeouts and no walks.
“For a freshman, she just doesn’t get rattled,” Meyer said. “If she walks a batter or if she gives up a home run, she’s going to come right back at you. She doesn’t lose her focus. She does an awesome job.”
McCoy did not allow a hit after the third inning.
“We didn’t hit the ball real well,” St. Bede coach Rob Ruppert said. “She kept us off balance. She throws a curveball on the inside corner and she was getting it.”
MAKING ROUTINE PLAYS
While St. Bede committed four errors that led to three unearned runs for the Illini Bluffs, the Tigers made just one — which did not lead to a run — while making all the routine plays.
Illini Bluffs shortstop Hanna Hicks caught two line drives, cleanly fielded three balls and fired to first for outs and tossed another to second for a force out. Third baseman Makayla Ellison made a lunging grab of a line drive, caught a pop up and fielded a grounder and threw to first for an out. The Tiger outfield caught five balls.
“We played good defense,” Meyer said. “We made the routine plays. I think in any game that’s key — make the routine plays then every once in a while you might get that spectacular play.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.