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Making school history: Mulberry Grove softball team wins school's first sectional title in any sport, but falls at super-sectional

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By Andrew Harner

CARBONDALE – Two days after making school history, the Mulberry Grove softball team was shut out for the first time on the season at Monday’s Carbondale Super-Sectional, falling 14-0 to a very talented Goreville squad.

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The Lady Aces (23-5) came into the game aware that the Lady Blackcats had a lineup full of disciplined hitters and a tough pitcher, but Goreville was simply overwhelming.

“You try to do your best, but they hit to every spot that we didn’t have a person in,” said coach Teresa Tompkins. “And we couldn’t overcome the pitcher; she hit her spots and moved the ball like crazy.”

Goreville (33-4) set the tone early, taking a 2-0 lead after just three pitches when junior Taylor Odom launched her 21st home run of the season to set the Illinois high school record.

Freshman Kayla Zimmerman led off the bottom of the first with an infield single and stole second, but she would be the Lady Aces’ only base runner, as Goreville’s Sydnee Rushing recorded 10 strikeouts over six innings and allowed just one ball to get to the outfield.

The Blackcat offense, meanwhile, continued to scatter hits all over the field – 19 for the game – and posted runs in all but one inning to snap Mulberry Grove’s 17-game winning streak.

With the loss, the careers of Harley Tompkins, Megan Blankenship and Cheyenne Rogier came to an end. Tompkins and Rogier have committed to play for Parkland College.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Teresa Tompkins, “because I love to watch those girls play.”

But they will always be remembered, as they led the Lady Aces to the first super-sectional appearance in school history.

The likelihood that any of them expected that to happen back in March, however, is pretty slim.

“This season was fabulous,” Tompkins said. “I don’t think when this season started, we thought we would make it this far.”

Box score
Monday, May 28
at Carbondale Super-Sectional
Goreville 14
Mulberry Grove 0
GHS: 2-1-3-1-0-7—14-19-0
MGHS: 0-0-0-0-0-0—0-1-1
WP: Rushing; 6 IP, 10 K
LP: Blankenship (19-5); 6 IP, 0 K, 14 R, 19 H, 1 BB
Lady Aces: Zimmerman, 1-for-3, SB
Record: 23-5

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WOODLAWN – Senior Megan Blankenship fired a no-hitter against a talented Altamont team during last Wednesday’s sectional semifinals, leading Mulberry Grove to a 7-1 victory.

She then had another strong pitching performance against Woodlawn on Saturday, leading the Lady Aces to an 8-5 win and the school’s first sectional championship in any sport.

And it all happened during a season when the players overcame more adversity than many teams ever experience at the high school level.

“They have had one heck of a rough year,” said coach Teresa Tompkins. “We lost John Barnes as coach, Rebecca Oldham as our pitcher and our main catcher (April Stitch).

“I think it actually brought all 10 girls together as a team, because they know they have to rely on each other, since they don’t have anybody else.”

Blankenship was not overpowering against Woodlawn, a good hitting team, but by forcing the Lady Cardinals to make contact, she allowed her defense to make some great plays behind her.

In the first inning, junior Sam Goodin stabbed a sharply hit ball at third base for the third out, and freshman Kayla Zimmerman made a catch in deep center field to end the third inning.

Her catch resulted in a double play, because the Woodlawn runner who had been on second was already past third base when Zimmerman made the catch.

Senior Cheyenne Rogier then made it a defensive trifecta, ending the fifth with a diving catch on a lining popup toward second base.

“The girls knew they needed to have tough defense,” Tompkins said. “We knew Woodlawn wasn’t going to stop hitting.”

The Lady Cardinals had at least one base runner get to second base in all but one inning and had 12 hits for the game.

Woodlawn opened the game with a three-base error and took a quick 1-0 lead, but the Lady Aces took the lead in the bottom of the frame.

Zimmerman opened the inning with a single and advanced to third on a pair of passed balls. Sophomore Kate Jolliff then rocketed a triple to right, and she later scored on a single from Rogier.

In the third, Zimmerman again started the rally, reaching base on an error and scoring on another Jolliff triple. Senior Harley Tompkins then brought home Jolliff with a single to put Mulberry Grove ahead, 4-2.

Sophomore Josie Koontz opened the fourth with a double, and Zimmerman reached on a bunt single. Both of them were brought home when Blankenship rifled a single off of the second baseman’s glove.

Jolliff added a single to cap a 3-for-4 day, and she and Blankenship scored on a double from Rogier, who finished the day 3-for-3.

“She had a great day,” Teresa Tompkins said of Jolliff. “There’s not many days of hers that aren’t good.”

Holding an 8-2 lead after that rally, the Lady Aces did not get another hit, but appeared to have Woodlawn defeated.

But the Lady Cardinals ended up getting the tying run to the plate in the seventh, after stringing together five hits to push three runs across to narrow the final score.

In the semifinals, Harley Tompkins had an RBI double and scored in the first to give Mulberry Grove all the scoring  it needed to back up Blankenship’s effort.

“She is a very strong pitcher,” Teresa Tompkins said. “She has been a strong team leader in helping keep it all together.”

Harley Tompkins added a triple in the third to help open up a 5-0 lead. Jolliff had a fourth-inning triple.

The Lady Indians added an unearned run in the seventh.

Box scores
Saturday, May 26
at Woodlawn Sectional
Mulberry Grove 8
Woodlawn 5
WHS: 1-1-0-0-0-0-3—5-12-1
MGHS: 2-0-2-4-0-0—8-11-2
WP: Blankenship (19-4); 7 IP, 1 K, 5 R, 3 ER, 12 H, 2 BB
LP: Ethridge
Lady Aces: Jolliff, 3-for-4, 2 3B, 3 RBI, 3 runs; Rogier, 3-for-3, 2B, 3 RBI; Zimmerman, 2-for-4, 3 runs, SB; Blankenship, 1-for-4, 2 RBI, run; H. Tompkins, 1-for-4, RBI; Koontz, 1-for-3, 2B, run; Goodin, sac bunt.
Record: 23-4

Wednesday, May 23
at Woodlawn Sectional
Mulberry Grove 7
Altamont 1
AHS: 0-0-0-0-0-0-1—1-0-3
MG:  2-0-3-1-1-0-X—7-11-3
WP: Blankenship (18-4); 7 IP, 2 K, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 H, 4 BB
LP: Lange; 6 IP, 2K
Lady Aces: H. Tompkins, 2-for-4, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 2 runs; Jolliff, 2-for-4, 3B, RBI, run, SB; Rogier, 2-for-4, RBI, run; Karissa Woody, 2-for-3; Zimmerman, 1-for-3, 2 runs; Blankenship, 1-for-4, run; Breann Tompkins, 1-for-3.
Record: 22-4