Softball: Win sinks in for St. Francis
EAST PEORIA, Ill. -- St. Francis started its victory celebration with a late procession out of the dugout on Friday.
But the Spartans, like they did throughout Friday's softball game, picked up steam seconds later.
St. Francis belted 10 hits and Carlee Clark tossed a 4-hitter in a 6-2 victory over Bishop McNamara in a Class 3A semifinal at the EastSide Centre.
Once the final out was secured, Shannon Cooney was the first player to storm out of the dugout, racing out to meet her teammates on the field just past the pitcher's circle. A few seconds later, the rest of the bench arrived to celebrate St. Francis' first trip to the state final. The Spartans will play Sycamore in the 11:30 a.m. Saturday championship game.
"We were hoping to win, so it was kind of surreal and didn't feel real at first, then it kind of kicked in after," sophomore shortstop Annika Norman said of the late celebration.
The Spartans (26-3) won the rubber match against the Fightin' Irish (28-9-1) by scoring 2 runs in the first inning and 4 in the fifth.
"We are so excited," Clark said. "Bishop Mac is such a good team. We knew it was neck to neck this whole game and we wanted to go out swinging. … My defense was behind me and we got the bats going, so that was the difference."
Clark fanned four and walked two as Bishop McNamara stranded four on base. An SIU recruit, she said her changeup was the key in Friday's win, along with the early run support.
"My changeup was working and switching up locations, in and out, with them," Clark said. "I was trying to give them a different look every time through the lineup."
Clark, who had two hits in four plate appearances, joked that the rest of her Friday would include "ice my arm, rest a little bit, watch the (second) game and get some food."
The Spartans extended their winning streak to six games, outscoring their opponents 59-5. Bishop McNamara tied the game at 2-2 on Kylie Sullivan's 2-run chopper in the third.
After leaving a runner on base in the fourth, the Spartans went to work in the fifth.
Norman had two hits in three at-bats, with her single in the fifth igniting a 4-run explosion that was aided by three hits and three walks. Kellyn Langton had the key hit, drilling a single to left field to pad the lead to 6-2.
"When it was tied and we all kind of got nervous, but we knew we could come back," Norman said. "We were prepared for it. We had a game plan and knew how to handle their pitchers and knew what to mentally expect."
St. Francis coach Ralph Remus, in his first state appearance, relied on an aggressive approach to notch win No. 466. The Spartans had a runner thrown out at home, but one inning later seized a 3-2 lead on a sacrifice fly.
"I wish I could do this every year," Remus said of reaching the state title game. "Carlee had good command of her pitches and did a great job changing speeds. Our defense was much better today."
Junior Kristina Sherwin, sporting a big ice wrap on her right shoulder, sparked the attack with two hits and a run scored from the leadoff spot. She started the game with a double into the left-field corner. Bridget Rath's RBI single accounted for the first run.
"It's so exciting to finally be able to come to state, and now we're in the championship game," Sherwin said.