Softball: Huntley topples Hersey to earn first state trip
Huntley coach Mark Petryniec was in charge of the Red Raiders' softball program when it was a small Class A school 16 years ago trying to make a name for itself.
Monday night at the Fields of Dreams in Barrington, the Red Raiders made themselves one of four names playing in the Class 4A state finals in East Peoria this weekend.
And one of the biggest names getting the job done was only a sophomore.
Right-hander Briana Bower hurled a 5-hitter with 14 strikeouts as Huntley edged Hersey 3-1 in the Barrington supersectional.
The Red Raiders (33-7), who set a school record for wins while capturing their first supersectional, will face state power Marist in Friday's 5:30 p.m. semifinal.
"They're the No. 1 team in the state," Petryniec said. "Let's go. We're going to get their best and we're going to give them our best."
Bower (25-5) certainly gave her best on Monday, executing brilliantly when Hersey had runners on base.
In fact, the Huskies had runners on second and third in the top of the seventh when Bower struck out the final batter with three pitches.
"Words can't explain this," she said. "But it's awesome to be the first team in program history to be going downstate. We're making everyone proud so when that happens we are happy."
Hersey fans were happy right from the get go as the Huskies struck for a 1-0 lead before anyone was out in the top of the first inning.
Makayla Tsagalis and Ria Patel started with infield hits and Brianna Luciano singled sharply to center to score Tsagalis.
But Bower proceeded to retired 17 straight batters and got the only runs she would need in the bottom of the third.
Sophomore Marly Reicher and senior Taylor Zielinski reached on errors and scored for 2 unearned runs. Kendra Mitchell singled courtesy runner Abigail Simandl with two outs in the fourth for the 3-1 lead.
"After they scored that first run, I knew I had to get on my high horse," Bower said.
"Getting little rest from the weather and our conference schedule was a grind (for Bower)," Petryniec said. "There were times she was throwing 13 out of 14 days and that wears on a power pitcher. So obviously any days off we had here in the postseason games were going to suit her well."
The last time Bower played at the Field of Dreams, she gave up 10 runs to Barrington in an early-season contest.
"Everything is a journey," Petryniec said. "Barrington has one of the biggest hitting lineups. Obviously after taking lumps there, she was able to reset and refocus."
"Bri was lights out tonight. I couldn't be prouder of how she shut it down when they had runners on base."
Luciano was 2-for 3 for Hersey while Patel, Tsalagis and Chloe Gordon had the other hits.
Sarah Bailitz (15-3) did a solid job keeping Hersey in the game, tossing an 8-hitter with 7 strikeouts.
"It went right down to the end," said Hersey coach Molly Freeman. "These games are such beautiful things where you have two teams here to compete and try to continue their season in a do-or-die situation. I thought our kids played to the bitter end.
"We had two runners (Kylie Makuh and Gordon) in scoring position in the last inning and that's where we wanted to be. We wanted to fight all the way to the end."
The three-time defending MSL East champs finished at 26-8 after making their longest stay in the state tournament.
"We made history," Freeman added. "We are super proud of our accomplishments. I'm so proud of the mark our seniors left on the program and so proud of my coaching staff. We all worked hard and did it together.
"We faced a great pitcher and hats off to Huntley. They did what they had to."
Huntley four-year varsity player Sophia Tenuta waited four years for the moment.
"Oh my God, I can't even tell you the feeling I have," she said. "It's just adrenaline running through all my body. I think it just feels surreal."
"Unbelievable," Petryniec said. "Especially starting out here 17 years ago (one year as an assistant) in Class A, then jumping to the Big Northern Conference and then to the Fox Valley. We took our lumps. It's just accolades to the all the kids who have come through buying into the approach of our program."
"We don't play just for us. We played for every girl who has put in the work to establish Huntley as the team we are. We challenged every kid to do something that has never been done, and they just did that."