The Mulberry Grove softball team kept the faith when ace Brittany Crandell went down with a torn rotator cuff early this spring.
And thanks to that perseverance – and a near-flawless effort Saturday in a 6-2 win over Bunker Hill – the Lady Aces are regional champions for the second time in three seasons.
Granted, prior to the season, the Lady Aces (25-9) fully expected to be in the position they found themselves in when they were presented the championship plaque at the Valmeyer Class 1A Regional.
But they never figured freshman Joanna Brewer would be the one leading them from the pitcher’s circle when it happened.
‘It’s one of those deals,’ said Mulberry Grove coach John Barnes of his team’s mindset. ‘Sometimes, when you think you’re going to do something, it doesn’t happen. Then you don’t think it’s gonna happen, and it does.
‘The good Lord blessed us, and here we are. You just have to stay faithful.’
Brewer, who has subbed admirably, along with older sister Rachel since Crandell’s unfortunate injury, improved to 8-2 with a valiant complete-game effort.
She scattered eight hits and struck out four as part of the ‘perfect game’ coach John Barnes felt his team would have to play against Bunker Hill and their hard-throwing ace, Jessica Lovejoy.
‘Joey pitched well,’ Barnes said. ‘That’s a huge piece of the puzzle. We scouted them, and saw that they couldn’t hit anything away, and she didn’t give anything inside.’
Two other Mulberry Grove constants completed the puzzle.
The Lady Aces’ offense was relentless as usual, banging out 11 hits against Lovejoy.
And their defense was airtight as well.
‘She threw well,’ said Barnes of Lovejoy, who struck out 16 Dupo batters in her team’s regional semifinal win. ‘She was good; she threw hard. But the Alton Telegraph guy told me that he’d never seen her get hit that hard.’
Barnes shook up his lineup a bit – putting his heavy hitters atop the order and his bunt/slap hitters in the middle of the order in an attempt to throw Lovejoy off.
And it worked.
Leadoff hitter Jaqueline Youngman set the tone with two triples, including a two-run three-bagger in the fourth that stretched Mulberry Grove’s early lead to 4-0.
Endia Fletcher added three hits an RBI from the No. 2 spot in the order, while Brewer helped her own cause by going 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Lovejoy struck for a two-run homer against Brewer in the fifth, but Bunker Hill had very little luck with balls that stayed in the park.
Mulberry Grove not only played errorless softball – it got a number of spectacular plays, as Jessica Willis made a diving catch and threw out a runner at second base, and Kelsey Redenbo quelled a potential Bunker Hill rally by making a backhanded play up the middle with the bases loaded in the fourth.
‘Our defense was unreal,’ Barnes said.
Overall, Barnes could not have been happier with his team’s effort.
‘We just made the most of our opportunities,’ Barnes said. ‘We played top-notch ball against a pretty good ballclub.
‘Everything just fell into place. We needed to have a perfect game, and we got one.’
Bunker Hill coach Dave Pitts echoed Barnes’ sentiments.
‘They did all the little things right,’ Pitts told the Telegraph. ‘It just wasn’t our night. The better team won today.’
And in doing so, the Lady Aces snapped Bunker Hill’s string of three straight regional titles. The program won a state title in 1987 and has eight regional crowns overall.
The Lady Aces will look to continue their recent postseason success Wednesday in the Lincolnwood Sectional in a rematch of a wild regular-season game.
Lincolnwood pulled out a 16-15 slugfest the first time the two teams hooked up, but Barnes expects a far different contest this time around.
‘We’re not going to score 15, and we’re hoping they’re not going to score 16,’ Barnes said. ‘It was just one of those crazy 40-degree days when the pitchers couldn’t grip the ball.’
Barnes threw the elder Brewer in the first meeting between the teams, but will throw his other Brewer in Game 2.
‘She’s 8-2 and has won some big ones,’ Barnes said. ‘She’s had a bigger freshman season than Britt (Crandell) had.’
The winner will play top-ranked Lebanon in the championship game, and Barnes’ team is anxious to prove that it is a much better squad than the one that got roughed up a bit by the Greyhounds early in the spring.
‘I think our girls are ready to get back at them,’ Barnes said.