Softball: Lemont repeats as Mardjetko tosses 24-strikeout no-hitter to beat Antioch in Class 3A state title game
PEORIA - Nicole Pontrelli was not certain if it was the shortest hit of her career.
The sweetest? Definitely.
When the Lemont senior came to the plate with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the 12th, she dropped down a bunt feet from home plate. And she ran like the wind, like courtesy runner Addison McGrath did from third base.
"She's a fast runner, I trust her," Pontrelli said. "It went where I wanted it to go. I wasn't thinking push bunt. But I wanted to get it done."
She sure gone it done. Pontrelli's squeeze bunt scored McGrath ahead of the tag at the plate. It was a thrilling conclusion to Lemont's 1-0 win over Antioch in 12 innings in a classic Class 3A state championship game at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex.
Going back-to-back as state champion, Lemont's Sage Mardjetko put an exclamation mark on a marvelous career. The South Carolina recruit threw a no-hitter in the state championship game for the second consecutive year, striking out a Class 3A title-game record 24 batters.
The game was also the longest, innings-wise, in Class 3A title game history.
"It's pretty insane to throw a no-hitter in a championship game. To do it again, I don't know what to call it," Mardjetko said. "So happy for Lemont, this team, this program. To go out with this team, it's awesome."
Mardjetko, who did not allow an earned run all year, needed to be awesome to match zeroes with Antioch junior Jacey Schuler. The Michigan State recruit struck out 10 and allowed just six hits with two walks.
Schuler (19-2) pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the 11th, but Lemont (35-1) threw a curveball at her in the 12th.
Bunts, bunts and more bunts.
Mardjetko dropped down a bunt to lead off the inning. When the throw to first went wide down the line, Mardjetko raced to second.
"We weren't hitting the ball. We're like 'let's try something' and it worked," said Mardjetko, who had struck out in her three previous at-bats. "I knew we had to push it. It's the 12th inning, there is no score. You have to win."
Schuler admitted it may have shook Antioch (34-2). The next batter popped up a bunt, but Maya Hollendoner bunted McGrath over to third.
"I think it threw off the infield a little bit," Schuler said. "Something unexpected."
Pontrelli was expecting to bunt.
She dropped down a little dribbler, Antioch went for the play at the plate and McGrath beat the flip throw home.
"I knew I had to get it there," Pontrelli said. "I ran as fast as I could. As soon as I got to first, I heard cheering, I knew Addy got it. It's amazing to come back for year two and win it again, especially since it's my senior year. I couldn't have asked for anything more."
The dual between Mardjetko and Schuler was amazing, stirring, pick your superlative.
Mardjetko (23-0) retired the first 10 batters she faced until Jadynn Ruiz's one-out walk in the fourth. She allowed just four baserunners, two on walks, and two on errors.
Mardjetko struck out Samantha Hillner with two out in the top of the 12th and Schuler on second after an error, to set the stage for Pontrelli's bunting heroics.
"Yeah, the runners were nothing I was worried about," Mardjetko said. "I trust [catcher] Frankie [Rita] and I trust my team. If the ball was hit in play, they're going to be outs. If not, I got you, I'll pick you up every time, that's how it works, we play for each other."
Schuler was gutsy in defeat, and got a little help from her defense.
Senior center fielder Eden Echevarria, a Wisconsin recruit, twice doubled runners off first base on spectacular running catches and laser throws.
"She's always had my back. She will be missed," Schuler said. "We've been playing together since babies."
Antioch, which lost to Lemont in last year's semifinal, took one step closer to its first state title with a junior-dominant team. Saturday marked the first time any Antioch team has played in a state championship game.
"We knew it would be a challenge, but I think we rose to the occasion," Schuler said. "Just the fact that we were so close, I could reach out to that state championship trophy fueled me. As much as I want to say we lost, it really does feel like a win to us. I don't think we should be leaving with our heads down."
Mardjetko could not leave the field without signing softballs for throngs of adoring young fans.
In three high school seasons she led Lemont to two state championships, and a runner-up finish as a sophomore. She struck out her 900th career batter in Friday's semifinal.
"Unbelievable, just unbelievable," Lemont coach Chris Traina said. "She's ready for that next level. She will be missed, but she's ready."