Softball: Derkowski pitches York over Downers Grove South
For their final home softball games Tuesday, Michigan-bound standout pitcher Lauren Derkowski and catcher Rena Sotos were among the York seniors who left the field victorious and temporarily cleatless.
The seniors placed their footware by the batter's box or field positions until everyone had left from the Dukes' 4-0 victory over Downers Grove South in their Class 4A sectional semifinal in Elmhurst.
Second-year head coach Brendan Holba later gathered and returned the cleats for Thursday's sectional final at Marist, the state's top-rated team.
"He just told us (the idea) and we were all for it," said Sotos, who along with sophomore Mariann Blass had two-hit games for the Dukes (20-2), the sectional's No. 2 seed.
"All of your blood, sweat and tears is in those cleats. You have emotional connections to them."
Derkowski (17-1) again led the way by throwing a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts and hitting a two-run, first-inning home run after Lindsey Bingham singled.
Consecutive singles by Blass, Kara Jensen and Molly Heiss earned another run in the second, and Derkowski walked for a second time and scored on Bliss' two-out single in the fifth.
The Dukes especially were motivated after losing 1-0 May 26 at home to No. 3 Downers South (17-5) in a game continued from a rain stoppage May 15 at Downers South. Aurora University-bound senior Jordyn Spencer (16-4) contributed one of her best pitching performances and returned Tuesday.
"We had a lot of energy coming out today and we definitely wanted to win this," Derkowski said. "I could have had better control over some of my pitches, but it did the job and that's all that matters. You can always be better."
One of Derkowski's rewards was the latest postseason tradition. She again was wearing the 'money' necklace with a giant dollar sign after hitting a home run for the second time. Emily Kunst and Kara Jensen also have postseason homers.
"MLB has a lot of that, like the San Diego Padres," Sotos said. "I saw the idea and we had to do it, team chemistry."
"I was just thinking, 'get a base hit, get a base hit, help the team out, score first,' and it was pretty awesome," Derkowski said. Derkowski usually bats fourth, but Holba moved her to third Tuesday hoping to strike early. It was her 12th homer this season.
"To get (runs) in the first inning was huge. That was kind of the idea," Holba said. "It's a big game. (Losing before) just kind of added to it a little more."
As a pitcher, Derkowski struck out the side in the first and third innings and allowed only four baserunners. Freshman Ella Cushing had the Mustangs' hits with a clean, up-the-middle single to open the fifth and a screaming liner in the seventh that York second baseman Emily Fujiwara nearly snagged.
"We knew they were going to be prepared for us all the way around," Downers South coach Jim Cushing said. "Lauren, if she's not the best pitcher in the state, she's one of the top three. She's very tough to beat. You know what makes her devastating? She not only throws 65 mph, she's got a tremendous changeup and you can't pick it up."
Whether these Dukes can return downstate since Derkowski, Sotos, starting left fielder Molly Lach and Emma Chael were freshmen, Holba wants seniors to leave displayed autographed cleats upon graduating. He's beginning with his COVID-affected Class of 2020.
"Our seniors are going to leave their cleats because they left everything on the field for four years," Holba said. "They left an impression. They left this place better. It's a way to honor them as they go forward."
The Mustangs lose seven seniors. Senior Brynn Dvoracek was hit by a pitch in the second and senior Renee Nicholson reached on an error in the fourth.
Senior shortstop Daly Garland, who will play at NAIA Central Methodist University (Fayette, Mo.) has been on varsity since freshman year.
"We were definitely going into it thinking they were going to be a little bit more hyped up," Garland said. "It was a good season. I think we could have been a good team our junior year, but I think we also came back and had a good run."