Softball: Marist trips up Mundelein in 4A state semifinals

PEORIA — When Heather Ryan was pressed into duty as the Mundelein softball coach to start the season, she came up with a slogan for the team.

"I told them our motto was '24 on the board,’“ Ryan said of wanting to put this year up on the board as an accomplishment for the Mustangs. "There was nothing on the board since ‘06, and that was the year some of these girls were born."

The Mustangs will have conference, regional, sectional, supersectional, and a state placement in this season's Class 4A state tournament to add to the board. Unfortunately, it won't be first or second as Mundelein lost 7-1 to defending Class 4A state champion Marist in the opening semifinal Friday at Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.

It was only the second loss of the season for the Mustangs (36-2), who were making their first state appearance in 30 years. They will still bring home their first state trophy since 1994 when they face Oswego (28-10), which lost 2-1 to St. Charles North in the second semifinal, at 2 p.m. Saturday in the third place game.

St. Charles North (25-6) will play Marist (36-3) for the Class 4A championship at 4:30 p.m. That's a rematch of the 2022 state title game.

"It's been 30 years and no one thought we'd be here," Mundelein junior first baseman Claire Connelly said. "So to be here is a dream come true."

Connelly and sophomore center fielder Kieley Tomas each went 2-for-3. Thomas led off the game with a single and scored the Mustangs' only run, after getting her second single in the third, on a 2-out RBI base hit by Connelly.

"I was looking to hit the first pitch and to be successful," Connelly said. "On my (RBI) it was the second pitch but it was a curve ball and it felt good.

"Coach Ryan stepped in and did an amazing job. She pushed us a lot and we focused on the little things. We had concise and hardworking practices."

Tomas saw all the hard work pay off as well.

"No, never. On the first day of the season, I had no thought that we'd be here," said Tomas, who is in her second varsity season. "But we all came together as a team."

Emily Courtney, a sophomore third baseman, had the other hit for the Mustangs. That was a bunt single to open the seventh. But Marist pitcher Gianna Hillegonds (24-1) settled in and retired the side in order four times. The junior right-hander allowed one earned run on five hits with one walk and seven strikeouts.

The RedHawks scored twice in the bottom of the first on a 2-out, 2-run double by Lexi Kyros (2-for-3, 2 doubles, 3 RBI). They added a run in the second and two more in the third and the fourth. Senior left fielder Camryn Lyons was 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI double in the fourth as Marist had eight hits.

Mundelein didn't help itself with four errors. Sophomore right-hander Shae Johnson (25-2) gave up four earned runs on eight hits with two walks, a hit batter, and a strikeout. The Mustangs only have two seniors, Karina Benes and Lillian Scardicchio.

"This was very unexpected," said Ryan, who was head coach in 2018 and 2019 before stepping away to have a child. "I was coaching the JV and stepped in a week before the season started. We're still a young team. The girls found a way to get it together and I'm over the moon for them."

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