EAST PEORIA — St. Bede won’t simply be adding 2019 to the softball banner inside Abbot Vincent Gymnasium, it will be adding the highest finish ever earned by a girls program at the school.
With the Lady Bruins’ 2-0 victory over Calhoun in the Class 1A third-place game Saturday, the softball team has placed better than any girls team in school history.
EAST PEORIA — For six innings, the St. Bede softball team couldn’t figure out Calhoun pitcher Sydney Baalman.
“It’s such a great experience. Everyone has become close,” sophomore third baseman Claire Morrow said. “We’re a family. We really are.”
SBA senior starting pitcher Abbie May has been a part of the family for four years.
Although she will always be a part of the Lady Bruin family, her face lit up with a smile when she realized the last time her and her high school team left the softball field together, they would be carrying an IHSA state trophy after a 20-9 season.
“We’ve worked really, really hard this year,” May said. “We knew that was our goal from the beginning. It feels really good to have reached it. Our goal was just to make it to state and then to finish third and be the first girls St. Bede team to get this far feels really good also.”
Sometimes it can be hard to come to the field prepared for a third-place game after losing in a semifinal the day before as the chance to become a state champion is removed.
However, SBA coach Rob Ruppert made sure his team was ready to go against Calhoun (30-5) because he knew there was history to be made.
The 2013 Lady Bruins softball team made it to state and finished fourth. Ruppert and his squad wanted to do a win better.
“We told the girls coming into (Saturday), ‘Hey, we’re not done. We got something to play for.’ You have to give all the credit to the girls. They didn’t leave anything out on the field. They gave it their best shot,” Ruppert said. “You have to tip your cap to the other team. They’re really good and we were just hoping we could scratch one out, and we did.”
STEPPING UP THE DEFENSE
While Calhoun’s pitcher Sydney Baalman allowed no hits and struck out 17 batters, the SBA pitching and defense was holding its own as well.
May only gave up six hits and struck out 11.
The defense, which committed four errors and gave up three unearned runs against Illini Bluffs in the state semifinal on Friday, only committed one error against Calhoun and the Lady Bruins made up for it in the same inning.
After Calhoun’s Ella Sievers reached on an error in the fifth and a sacrifice bunt moved her to second, the Lady Bruins converted a 6-3-5 (Maggie Sons to Gianna Elias to Morrow) double play to get out of the inning unscathed.
“We knew we had to execute and clean it up from (Friday),” said Morrow, who along with being part of the double play made a running catch of a foul pop up along the fence in the fourth. “We knew we had to make plays and get the job done. The double play really got us going. We needed that.”
Although the double play was the defensive highlight, there were other top plays.
In the third inning, junior catcher Charleigh Holmes displayed quick reflexes as she snagged a popped up bunt.
Holmes followed with a sniper-like throw to Sons to throw out a Calhoun runner attempting to steal second in the fourth.
“After our game (Friday), we came to the conclusion that we needed to get stronger,” Holmes said. “We knew from the first mistake (Friday) that we were done. We all gave up. (Saturday), we knew there was going to be two winners — the team that gets first and the team that gets third. Our goal was to be the other win. We came ready and our defense was great.
“(Assistant) coach (Shawn) Sons knows I like to hear people yell, ‘She’s going.’ He yells at the top of his lungs. I already know, when he’s yelling, I have to throw down. It’s automatic when I hear him yelling that loud, I know what’s going on. I just throw it now. Whenever I aim, I never make the target. I just got up and threw.”