Softball: Lemont powers past Benet in Class 3A semifinal
Raegan Duncan owned up to playoff jitters that she's had to overcome throughout her first two seasons at Lemont.
Duncan was thrown into the fire early. She was a freshman starter on the 2021 state runners-up.
Those anxieties are but a distant memory to Duncan. The junior third baseman is one of her team's most dependable bats, Lemont's biggest run producer.
"Last couple years, playoffs were a big challenge for me to overcome the nerves. The nerves got to me a little bit," Duncan said. "I'm just trying to stay loose now. I have a great team backing me up."
Duncan added to her greatest hits collection Friday.
She homered in Lemont's supersectional win Monday, and like that game drove in her team's first run Friday. Duncan went on to reach base four times with three hits, and two runs batted in.
Lemont banged out 15 hits as a team, and Sage Mardjetko struck out 13 in a two-hit shutout as the defending state champs rolled past Benet 10-0 in six innings in the Class 3A semifinal at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.
No. 1-ranked Lemont (34-1), back in the state championship game for the third straight year, will go for a repeat in Saturday's 11:30 a.m. final against No. 2 Antioch, a 3-0 winner over Charleston, in a rematch of a 2022 semifinal. Lemont fans wore T-shirts with #RunItBack and the girls have indeed done so.
Duncan went 3-for-3 with a double and walk, and scored two runs, Frankie Rita was 2-for-4 and scored two runs, Olivia Parent was 4-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI and Maya Hollendoner was 2-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs.
"I'm just proud of the girls," Lemont coach Chris Traina said. "They've had their goal from the start to get back to the state championship game and here we are."
Lemont wasted no time providing Mardjetko all the run support she would need.
Rita led off the game by lining a single off the glove of Benet pitcher Alex O'Rourke and into center field. Rita stole second, the first of five Lemont stolen bases, and scored on Duncan's line drive single to left field.
"Mostly I was just trying to look for pitches that were my pitches and to drive those and hit the barrel," Duncan said. "I wanted to do that after last game and I think I accomplished that. Just wanted to put bat on ball and move the runners over."
Traina has been seeing quite a bit of that from Duncan, who came in batting .425 with 34 RBIs.
Duncan walked and scored on Avaree Taylor's triple in the third, and singled and scored in Lemont's three-run sixth.
"I see a player that's really just focused, that wants to continue to get better and better," Traina said. "It's great to see how she's playing. We know what she's capable of."
Duncan's hardest hit ball, and most impressive at-bat, may have been her rocket double the opposite way to right-center that scored Natalie Pacyga in a three-run Lemont fifth.
"I had to zone in after my first swing. I kind of swung out of my shoes and I had to dial it back," Duncan said. "I've been working on my hitting lessons hitting that outside pitch and I did exactly that."
Mardjetko (22-0), meanwhile, did what she's been doing all season.
The South Carolina recruit, who has yet to allow an earned run this spring, struck out the first nine batters she faced. She seemed to have Benet's hitters guessing throughout at her mix of pitches, which came as no surprise to her catcher.
Mardjetko's strikeout to end the fourth inning on a strike-her-out throw-her-out double play was her 900th career.
"It's kind of the elephant in the room, Sage is amazing," said Rita, a Drake recruit. "The most important thing is she is unpredictable. A lot of pitchers have a pattern that they go with. She has consistency, but it's consistency without a pattern. You can call whatever pitch you want and people don't know what's coming."
Benet (24-12) finally got a baserunner with Nina Pesare's bunt single to start the fourth. The Redwings put two on in the fifth, an infield single by Bridget Chapman and walk to Gianna Cunningham. Benet's two hits were double the amount Mardjetko had given up so far in the postseason, dominance Chapman could attest to.
"We were all trying to go in there with a lot of confidence, but she was definitely really good," Chapman said. "We knew she was one of the best in the state and the nation, she has the stats to prove it. She definitely had a lot of spin. It kept a lot of us off balance."
Chapman, though, is ready to get back at it.
The Redwings, back at state for the first time since 2011, will be back Saturday morning at 9 a.m. to play Charleston for third place.
"We were just telling each other to keep our heads up. We have another game tomorrow," Chapman said. "Only two teams in Class 3A are going to come out with a win, we're trying to be one of them."