Having an ace pitcher is half of the formula for an IHSA State Tournament caliber softball team.
The other half is an offense that can put runs on the board in any given inning against any squad put in front of them.
Six years ago, Ellyn Nowakowski was a fifth grader when her sister, Abbey, was a member of the St. Bede softball team’s first state appearance.
St. Bede has the ace pitcher in Abbie May and a batting lineup — one through nine — that can make opponents pay.
Put the two together and the Lady Bruins are in the IHSA State Tournament for the first time since 2013 and the second time in school history.
“We’ve been hitting really solid. We just have to visualize and we have to be disciplined at the plate,” SBA junior Hayley Short said. “If we’re not disciplined, we’re swinging at silly pitches that are complete trash. I’ve been very relaxed at the plate and have been hitting smooth, sailing rockets.
“At the beginning of the season, I was a little nervous for some reason. I started to relax. Once I relaxed, my swings were smooth and I was seeing good pitches.”
The Lady Bruins defeated Serena in a regional semifinal 3-1 and followed with a 3-0 win over Earlville-Leland for a regional championship.
In the last three games, SBA hasn’t scored less than five runs as it beat Newark 10-3 in a sectional semifinal, Marquette 7-1 for a sectional title and Villa Grove 5-0 in Monday’s Class 1A Illinois Wesleyan University Super-Sectional in Bloomington to advance to the state tournament.
The Lady Bruins (19-8) hope the strong offense continues against Illini Bluffs (23-5) at 10 a.m. Friday in a state semifinal.
The high-powered offense began with Short hitting three home runs and Marissa Boehm hitting a dinger against Newark.
“When you can get a runner on second or third base with nobody out, it definitely helps you,” SBA coach Rob Ruppert said. “You don’t have to hit the long ball. You can hit a base hit and score a run. We’ve had a kind of sudden power surge, but this is the team we’ve expected to have all year.
“They kind of struggled for a while, but we’re finding our grove. I think a lot of it goes to the coaching staff. We’ve been scouting these other teams and we’ve been getting good intel on them in terms of where the pitchers like to pitch and the kind of attack we want to have at the plate.”
Against Marquette, the Lady Bruins connected for five hits against Lady Crusaders pitcher MaKenna Tkach, who struck out 11 and didn’t give up a single earned run to SBA.
Those five hits included a three-run home run from junior Ellyn Nowakowski, while senior Gianna Elias went 2-for-3 and scored two runs and junior Charleigh Holmes was 2-for-3.
The hitting continued against Villa Grove as SBA connected 10 times.
Senior Maggie Sons hit an RBI triple and Short, Nowakowski and Holmes recorded doubles.
For Holmes, being the No. 9 hitter wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. But after accepting her role, she has become an equal contributor, as she is 3-of-6 with a double, two singles and a run scored in the last two games.
“When I first became the No. 9 hitter, I was upset about it,” Holmes said. “I was actually looking down upon myself saying, ‘Obviously, I’m not as good as everyone else at hitting on the team.’ Eventually, a couple of games in, I thought, ‘This is my place and I need to do my spot. I need to work my hardest. Although I’m No. 9, they still need me to try my best.’
“Once I put that in my head and realized my position on the team, everything started going. I started hitting the ball. I started hitting doubles and triples. You have to find your place on the team and serve it.”
It doesn’t matter what number his players are in the batting lineup, Ruppert has full confidence in all of them.
He knows at any given spot in the lineup, his Lady Bruins are dangerous at the plate.
“When one girl isn’t hitting and another girl steps up and hits the ball to advance runners or score runs, it’s big,” Ruppert said. “In the postseason, it hasn’t been just one person. Ellyn Nowakowski stepped up. Marissa Boehm has stepped up. Hayley Short stepped up. Charleigh Holmes has been hitting the ball well. Gianna Elias has hit the ball well. Maggie Sons of course hits the ball well.
“We have gotten a lot more production from a lot of different girls.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.