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.

“I don’t remember too much because I was little, but I remember watching it and thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t believe my sister is out there. Someday, I hope I’m out there,’” said Ellyn Nowakowski, a junior second baseman for the 2019 Lady Bruins. “Now is the time I am going to be out there and it’s really awesome to look back and be able to relate to my sister.”

Ellyn Nowakowski said she’s received advice from her sister on the state experience.

“She was really overwhelmed after the super-sectional game to see her little sister getting this opportunity,” Ellyn said. “She told me to take advantage of the opportunity your’re getting, have fun with it and enjoy the game of softball because in the end it’s a shoebox full of memories.”

Nowakowski and the Lady Bruins will look to make some more positive memories this weekend in the Class 1A state tournament at EastSide Centre in East Peoria.

St. Bede (19-8) takes on Illini Bluffs (23-5) in a semifinal at 10 a.m. Friday.

The Tigers advanced with a 4-2 win over Orangeville on Wednesday.

“We’re one of the top four teams in the state,” St. Bede coach Rob Ruppert said. “Anything can happen. I feel with our pitching and our hitting coming around right now, I think we have just as good of a chance as anybody.

“I’m a little prejudice, but I think we have the best team.”

The Lady Bruins had an opportunity to get a first-hand look at their opponent since St. Bede won the Illinois Wesleyan University Super-Sectional on Monday while the the Sterling Super-Sectional was postponed until Wednesday before being playing at the Louisville Slugger Dome in Peoria.

“We’ve been scouting our opponents all postseason and it’s really paid off for us,” Ruppert said. “We knew what Villa Grove was going to do. We knew what Marquette was going to do. We knew what Newark was going to do. We were able to take a lot of stuff away from them. That’s a credit to our coaching staff.”

Nowakowski said the couple extra days off may pay off for St. Bede.

“I definitely think rest was needed for a lot of us, especially Abbie (May),” Nowakowski said. “I think with a few days off to look back on what we’ve done and what we can do better, we may have a better outcome.”

Along with extra rest, the Lady Bruins hope a schedule full of strong Class 2A or larger teams could help them against 1A competition.

St. Bede has played Class 3A No. 3-ranked and sectional finalist Ottawa, defending 2A champion Rockridge, 2A sectional finalist Newman and 2A regional champion Princeton.

“I think it probably does,” Ruppert said about St. Bede’s 2A/3A schedule helping in the postseason. “Our conference was very good this year. Newman is always good. Erie-Prophetstown was good this year. Princeton really got a lot better. Kewanee was a lot better. There were no easy games in our conference. Playing those 2A teams and playing Ottawa made us a tougher team.”

Illini Bluffs will provide a tough test.

The Tigers rely on strong pitching as they have limited 18 of 28 opponents to two runs or less.

Both Illini Bluffs pitchers have sub-2 ERAs.

Kierston McCoy is 11-2 with a 1.44 ERA, 95 strikeouts and 17 walks in 77 2/3 innings, while Makayla Ellison is 9-3 with a 1.95 ERA, 78 strikeouts and 40 walks in 79 innings.

McCoy also is key offensively as she hits .447 with eight doubles, a team-high 29 RBIs and 21 runs.

Addie Welsh is hitting .427 with two home runs, five triples, four doubles, a team-leading 37 runs and 21 RBIs, while Hana Hicks is hitting .415 with a team-high 14 doubles along with three home runs, 34 runs and 10 RBIs.

The second semifinal features two powerhouses in Goreville (29-9) and Calhoun (30-4).

Goreville won state championships in 2012 and 2017, finished second last season and placed third in 2013.

Calhoun won state titles in 2015 and 2016, placed second in 2017 and took fourth in 2011.

Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at sports@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.

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