Softball: Montini derailed in supersectional by Pontiac's freshman phenom
As Kora Navarro stood outside the Montini dugout and reflected on a season that ended just short of the ultimate destination, she smiled and held her head high.
She had good reason.
When Navarro and the rest of the seniors arrived at Montini four years ago, the softball program was coming off its second state championship in three seasons.
"Had to fill some pretty big shoes," Navarro said.
Navarro, who will play collegiately at Findlay, filled them well. After losing her sophomore season to the pandemic, she led the Lady Broncos to a conference title and sectional final last spring. They went one step further this year, winning Montini's fifth sectional title since 2014.
A return trip to Peoria, though, wasn't in the cards. Freshman phenom Elena Krause, Navarro's counterpart in the circle Monday, struck out 19 batters, as Pontiac beat Montini 3-0 in the Class 2A Olivet Nazarene Supersectional.
"Honestly, regardless of what happened, I'm so proud of my team for making it this far," said Navarro, who only allowed five hits and struck out two. "We've come a long way, worked so hard together. It wasn't the outcome we wanted but I think it was still pretty good."
Pontiac (26-7-1), which is headed to state for the first time, can relate.
Three years ago the Indians -- led by Krause's older sister, Regan, now a sophomore at Stanford -- reached the supersectional round but lost. Then Regan Krause lost her senior year to the pandemic. Pontiac's coaches on Monday wore blue T-shirts with "Unfinished Business" on the back. Elena Krause, who previously struck out 15 in the sectional final, took care of that business.
"She has been great all year," Pontiac coach Nicole Hayner said. "She may only be a freshman but she knows when she's in the circle she's got to get that work done. We're confident whenever she's on the mound."
That confidence was put to the test right away in Montini's best scoring threat off Krause.
Freshman Kat Filkowski shot the first pitch of the game down the line past the Pontiac third baseman for a leadoff double, and took third on a passed ball. But Krause came back to strike out the next three batters, leaving Filkowski at third.
"We talked about getting them on, getting them over and getting them in, jumping on them right away, especially being the away team," Montini coach Erin Bradarich said. "We got 60 feet away. It is what it is."
It was the start of eight straight batters to strike out against Krause, who utilized a devastating rise ball that had Montini batters swinging under throughout.
"It was very tough to lay off," Navarro said. "It came in right perfect at the chest and then it went up. You know it's coming, it starts to go in, you think I'm going to swing and then as soon as you swing it's too late and the ball goes above your bat."
Navarro, while not missing bats with the same frequency, matched Krause for two innings before running into trouble in the third.
Pontiac's Maddie Gourley reached on a hard-hit ball off the second baseman's glove, stole second and scored on a Krause single. Krause promptly stole second herself and scored on Bailey Masching's single, making it 2-0. Masching reached third on an error and scored Pontiac's third run on a sacrifice fly.
That was more than enough offense for Krause, who retired 14 straight batters before Ava Franklin and Alexa Bauman singled with two out in the fifth.
Krause stranded both runners with a swinging strikeout on, yes, another rise ball.
"It's become my go-to pitch. I throw it all the time," said Krause, who finished the game by striking out the side in the seventh. "It's really effective, especially at the beginning of the count. End of the count, too."
End of the road for Montini (19-10), but Bradarich was no less proud of a group that will graduate just two seniors -- Navarro and shortstop Ava Franklin -- who started Monday's game.
"That's what I told them, that there is no shame being one of the top eight teams in the state," Bradarich said. "Obviously the goal is to always win a state championship but getting to this game is nothing to hang your head about."