Softball: Schuler's 1-hitter leads Antioch to 3rd at Class 3A state tourney
Antioch sophomore pitcher Jacey Schuler wanted to focus on the moment on Saturday morning.
After the Sequoits had their dreams of winning the program's first state title vanquished by Lemont in a Class 3A state semifinal on Friday, Schuler wanted to make a big statement in Saturday's third-place game against Mahomet-Seymour.
"After Friday, when we all played a really good game, we all came into today with high energy," Schuler said. "I wanted to enjoy the moment of being at state. Not everyone gets to experience something like this. I wanted to have fun and be in the moment, and still help us get a win."
Schuler accomplished her goal, pitching a 1-hitter to lead the Sequoits to a 1-0 victory over Mahomet-Seymour at the Louisville Slugger Complex in Peoria.
The Sequoits (30-4) set another new standard for their program by earning their second third-place trophy. The Sequoits entered the state weekend ranked No. 1 in 3A in the Illinois Softball Coaches Association's poll.
Antioch coach Anthony Rocco said his three seniors -- Gabby Debevec, Hailey Menzies and Sophia Shaffer -- were instrumental in leading the program to back-to-back supersectionals and a third-place trophy.
"It kind of stinks that we don't get to play or practice anymore," Rocco said. "This is a great group of kids. They competed to get down here. We had a fantastic year, from playing a full regular season to great games against Huntley, Barrington, St. Charles East and Marist. We had a lot of great memories and development and growth as a program.
"We're going to miss the three seniors so much. They were the leaders of the team. They knew how to get it done after losing in the supersectional last year. They helped guide the younger kids throughout the season and their leadership was fantastic."
Debevec, an Illinois recruit, said the Sequoits were motivated to end their historic season with a win.
"I'm really excited and happy because it's been a great season," Debevec said. "We had a lot of confidence and are glad we ended the season and my career on a high note by taking third place. The last pitch of the last inning of our last game, when we took third place, was a very cool moment and also very high energy.
"We were disappointed we lost (Friday), but we knew we had a chance to win today, and to take home a third-place trophy. We wanted to pull out that last win. I'm really proud of this team."
Schuler, who suffered the loss in the 3-1 defeat to Lemont in the state semifinal, showed a lot of moxie with a tremendous effort in the third-place game. Schuler (21-3) struck out 11 batters and didn't walk a batter, as the Bulldogs left only one runner on base.
"I was working on getting outs and also I knew any ball that was hit in the infield that my defense would back me up," Schuler said. "My changeup was working well today. I did a good job of getting ahead on the count and throwing strikes."
Schuler said she gained valuable insight in her physical and mental game by playing two high-pressure games at state. She battled Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year and Lemont pitcher Sage Mardjetko pitch-for-pitch in Friday's semifinal.
"It's really high intensity, a lot of pressure and definitely more exciting games. Even in the first game we lost at state, it was a super exciting game," Schuler said.
Rocco said Schuler was masterful on the mound on Saturday.
"She was in complete control, didn't get a ball out of infield," he said. "We had the team prepared on what the kids on the other team can and can't do. Jacey and catcher Grace Green ran with it and executed and controlled the game. The only hit they got was a slap single. Also, Emily Brecht made a great backhand play to throw out a runner."
Schuler, who entered the state semifinal batting .486 with 51 hits, helped her own cause in the top of the third inning. She slapped an infield single that plated Shaffer for the lone run of the game. Shaffer walked to start the inning, but moved to third base via a sacrifice bunt and a fielder's choice and scored on Schuler's infield hit.
"I was so excited to score because I knew our defense could back us up," Shaffer said. "It was exciting when Jacey got on first base because everyone was yelling. When she hit that dribbler, I knew I had to score because that might be only the run of the game."
Rocco said his program is excited to build on their recent success. The Sequoits lose just two starters, returning most of their lineup, including Emily Brecht, a Tennessee Tech recruit and Wisconsin recruit Eden Echevarria. Brecht had one of Antioch's 3 hits on Saturday.
"Expectations were very high this year," Rocco said. "We're trying to build a great program. We're still fairly young next year. We have a lot of talent in the program, and also coming into the program. Our next step is getting into the championship game."