Softball: Antioch makes school history, sets up state rematch with Lemont
The rematch is set but this time it's for the Class 3A softball crown.
One year after Lemont edged Antioch 3-1 in the 3A semifinals at the Louisville Slugger in Peoria, the two teams will meet again on Saturday on the same field for the top prize.
The same two pitchers who led their teams a year ago were on the mound again Friday.
Antioch junior ace and Michigan State pledge Jacey Schuler fired a 2-hitter with 9 strikeouts as the Sequoits reached the state title game for the first time by any Antioch sports team since the school was established in 1915 with a 3-0 triumph over Charleston in Friday's second semifinal.
In the first semi, it was senior right-hander South Carolina recruit Sage Mardjetko (21-0, 316 strikeouts) who also fired a 2-hitter for Lemont with 13 strikeouts to blank Benet, 10-0, in six innings.
"She is a great pitcher and I have faced her," said Schuler (19-1, 260 strikeouts). "I think it will be a really great game."
The two teams (each now 34-1) have been No. 1 (Lemont) and No. 2 all season in the Class 3A state poll.
"Two teams with identical records, big-time pitchers with Division I athletes behind them," said 11th-year Antioch coach Anthony Rocco (288-99-1). "It's going to be an epic matchup."
Antioch and Charleston (28-6) were in a tight game when the Sequiots finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth. Schuler started the decisive rally with her first of 2 hits.
Courtesy runner Miranda Gomez stole second, took third on Emily Brecht's groundout and scored on Samantha Hillner's safety squeeze.
It would be the only run Schuler would need.
"That (the run) definitely takes a lot of pressure off myself," Schuler said. "But I still don't really change my mindset. I just keep pitching the same way."
Schuler's lead was extended in the bottom of the sixth when the Sequoits added two more runs.
Once again, it was Schuler (2-for-3) who got things underway with a double.
Brecht followed with a ground-rule double that skipped over the right-field fence, allowing Gomez to score again.
Hillner then came through with her second RBI, a single to center to score Brecht to make it 3-0.
Rocco said Schuler and her defense took care of the rest.
"The defense made some great plays behind Jacey," he said. "They (Charleston) got two on in the fifth with two hits in a row but Jacey took charge again. The defense made some key plays, especially on popups in foul territory, and the offense came through with some clutch hitting, bunts and steals."
Eden Echevarria had a stolen base with 2 hits in 3 at bats.
In all, the Sequoits had 7 hits, including one from Aubrey Ultsch.
Rocco is hoping to see more clutch hits on Saturday.
Last year, Lemont's Mardjetko tossed a 4-hitter with 13 strikeouts in the semifinal win over Antioch.
Schuler tossed a 6-hitter with 8 strikeouts. Both pitchers gave up only 1 earned run.
"It will come down to getting runners on base and finishing big innings," Rocco said of Saturday's 11:30 a.m. title game. "They've got a great pitcher as well. It all comes down to whose offense is going to back up their pitcher."
Schuler is looking forward to pitching in the program's first state championship game.
"This gives our team a lot of confidence since we made history this season," she said. "This is very exciting. It gives a real feeling of accomplishment after we've been working so hard."