Softball: Trophy sets new standard at St. Francis
EAST PEORIA, Ill. -- St. Francis senior catcher Caroline Caesar missed a memorable ending to her senior softball season by a few inches -- twice.
Caesar and senior pitcher Carlee Jo Clark -- both team captains and four-year varsity players -- formed the backbone of the best team in program history.
Caesar nearly etched her name in permanent lore during Saturday's Class 3A championship game against Sycamore.
But pitcher Faith Reynolds stole the show, tossing a 1-hitter to lead Sycamore to a 3-0 victory at the EastSide Centre.
St. Francis (26-4) didn't notch its first hit until junior Tarin Malloy's two-out, seventh-inning chopper up the middle.
Clark suffered the loss, scattering four hits over seven innings. The SIU recruit struck out three and walked four. She retired the first 12 batters before allowing a fifth-inning single to Gracyn Gabriel.
After a sacrifice bunt and a walk, Ally Polly singled to left field to give Sycamore (33-6-1) a 1-0 lead.
"It was really back and fourth and it was kind of up to the defense," Clark said. "I was spotting really well and my changeup (was working)."
Although St. Francis fell short of its goal of a state championship, Caesar and her teammates elected to dwell on the positives of the season instead of shedding tears.
"I'm so proud of this team," Caesar said. "We fought until the very end, made history for our school. … Everyone wants to win first place, but we are so happy because we've never made it this far. I was just proud of my team."
St. Francis certainly had opportunities.
In Caesar's second at-bat with the game scoreless and hitless, Caesar lofted a bloop over the third-base line for an apparent hit and RBI in the bottom of the fourth. But the home plate umpire ruled the ball foul.
"I was just trying to protect and it hit the foul line and those calls can go one way or another," Caesar said. "It didn't go our way today."
St. Francis coach Ralph Remus said he thought Caesar's blooper landed inside the foul line from his vantage point along third base.
"I could've lived with either call," he said. "I couldn't tell for sure. I thought it clipped part of the line."
Three innings later, Caesar, a Hope College recruit, blasted a bullet to the center-field warning track that Sycamore's Amanda Swedberg hauled in with a snow-cone catch.
"I was looking for a basehit and it was a great catch," Caesar said.
Those two plays encapsulated the frustration that St. Francis faced in the program's first state title game. Reynolds (17-4) kept St. Francis' big hitters at bay with her changeup. She fanned seven and walked two as St. Francis left four runners on base.
With the help of two errors, Sycamore tacked on two insurance runs in the top of the seventh. Haley Trela's single padded the lead to 3-0.
Malloy credited Reynolds for keeping St. Francis off-balance throughout the game. Reynolds bounced back with a strong effort after lasting just 2⅔ innings in Friday's thrilling 12-11 semifinal comeback win over Mt. Zion.
"I wanted to break the no-hitter," Malloy said. "I wanted to do this for the seniors. (Sycamore) played a really great game. (Reynolds) pitched very well. It's nothing like we've seen before. We've seen good pitchers, but this girl knew what she was doing. I had difficulty timing her up until I finally got to her in my third at-bat."
Remus, all smiles when handing out individual medals to his players, praised his team for setting a new standard for the program.
"The kids played terrifically, we had a few blips today, but I'll give credit to their pitcher," he said. "You don't score any runs, you are not going to win a game. I give her all the credit. They played a good game. We didn't give it to them. They took it."