Softball: Huntley wins another thriller, 1st state title
EAST PEORIA -- Huntley sophomore pitcher Briana Bower tossed her glove high up into the air to celebrate the moment.
Senior Sofia Tenuta made a dash toward the dog pile near the pitcher's circle that had engulfed Bower. Aubrey McFadden and Abigail Simandl hugged each other and started dancing.
Celebrations were everywhere, as the all-black uniformed Red Raiders reveled in making history at the EastSide Centre early Saturday night.
Bower tossed another masterful performance, allowing two hits in eight innings to lead Huntley to a 1-0 victory over St. Charles East in the Class 4A state championship game.
The Red Raiders (35-7) ended an up-and-down season by capturing the first team championship -- boys or girls -- in school history. Huntley closed out the season with 19 consecutive victories, including four straight thrilling one-run wins.
Huntley scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly to right field off the bat of Tenuta with one out in the top of the eighth. Tenuta finished 2-for-3 with an RBI.
The best team in the state failed to win its own conference, placing second in the Fox Valley Conference behind Crystal Lake South.
"We took some beatings at the beginning of the season," Bower said. "We didn't win conference, but that doesn't matter to us. In the end, we came through and won this. I'm very proud of this team because toward the postseason, we came together as a unit and started being like a family."
Bower (27-5) saved one of her best outings of the season for the biggest stage. After shutting down Marist's prolific attack in Friday's semifinal, Bower tossed another complete game. She held the Saints (26-11) hitless until Paige Ligocki's single to right field with one out in the bottom of the fifth. Alex Wooten's single in the seventh was the Saints' only other hit.
Bower struck out 13 and walked two to win a pitcher's duel against St. Charles East sophomore Katie Arrambide (17-8).
Bower said her entire repertoire of pitches -- fastball, changeup, curveball and rise ball -- were effective against the Saints.
"(Friday) none of my stuff was working, so I knew I had to come into this game and have my stuff working for the team," Bower said.
Arrambide was the tough-luck loser in a battle of sophomore aces. She allowed six hits, walked one and fanned nine in eight innings. Arrambide admitted she was laser-focused due to suffering a 9-0 loss to the Red Raiders in the regular season, plus the prospect of battling Bower pitch for pitch.
"(Briana) is a really good pitcher, so I had to be a tough pitcher," she said. "I could see that our team was going to struggle to put the bat on the ball.
"That really shifted my mindset to be the toughest pitcher I could be and give them nothing good, make them work and let my defense help me out, which they did."
Both teams had limited chances to score.
The Red Raiders nearly plated a run in the third but had a runner tagged out at home. The Saints missed a golden opportunity in the seventh when a runner was thrown out at third following a sacrifice bunt.
In the top of the eighth, Huntley's Taylor Zielinski slapped a single and moved to second on an error on a sacrifice bunt. After another sacrifice bunt, the hot-hitting Tenuta strolled to the plate. She lofted a high fly ball that straddled the right-field line, but was caught in foul territory, allowing just enough depth for Zielinski to race home.
"I was thinking that I just need to get the bat on the ball," Tenuta said. "Just any point of contact would score a run."
With the state title on the line, Bower forced a ground out to start the bottom of the eighth then struck out the next two batters in six pitches to cap a dominating weekend.
"Briana pitched great," Huntley coach Mark Petryniec said. "As it was getting through the middle innings, we knew that small ball would have to take over."
St. Charles East coach Jarod Gutesha reflected on a season that ended with the program's second runnerup finish.
"This is the type of game that we expected," he said. "I'm super proud of our girls. They believed all season long. They had that sac fly. We couldn't throw her out, it was in the no-man's land. She made a nice throw (on it)."