For the first time in the school district’s history, state tournament hardware will be on display in Mulberry Grove’s trophy case.
The Mulberry Grove Junior High School softball team guaranteed that in surprisingly easy fashion Friday, rolling to an 8-0 victory over Springfield Christ the King in its IESA Class A State Tournament opener at Champions Field in Normal.
The only question that remained after the win was how big of a trophy the Lady Eagles would bring home.
After jumping out to a 4-0 first inning lead against Sumner Red Hill in Saturday’s semifinal, the biggest trophy possible – the one given to the state champion – seemed very possible.
But Mulberry Grove’s roller-coaster state tourney ride took an unpleasant downturn shortly thereafter, as Red Hill scored the game’s final five runs, including an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh that dashed the Lady Eagles’ championship hopes in gut-wrenching fashion in a 5-4 loss.
Still shocked and heartbroken, Mulberry Grove had to return to the field almost immediately afterwards for a third-place showdown with Downs Tri-Valley.
The results might best be compared to what happened to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, as Tri-Valley showed no sympathy to the Lady Eagles, handing them a 12-2 loss.
Despite the disappointing tournament finish, Mulberry Grove coach John Barnes was able to keep things in perspective.
‘This is a big step for our program,’ said Barnes, whose team picked up its first-ever state-tournament victory after going one-and-out back in 2003. ‘We can’t hang our heads after what we did this year.’
In addition to placing fourth at state, Mulberry Grove finished with a sparkling 17-2 record, winning regional and sectional titles along the way.
Barnes feels his team will benefit from the experience for years to come.
‘After the first game I told the girls that we have to assume we will be doing this for at least the next four years,’ Barnes said. ‘Whether you win or lose, you can’t go through something like this and not learn. We bettered ourselves as a program. And Rome wasn’t built in a day.’
Sumner Red Hill 5,
Mulberry Grove 4
For the second day in a row, the Lady Eagles jumped out to a commanding 4-0 first-inning lead.
But unlike Friday’s game against Springfield Christ the King, Mulberry Grove’s opponent managed to battle back.
Breann Tompkins plated three runs on a misplayed triple to right after two walks and an error loaded the bases in the first. April Stich added another tally moments later with a two-out RBI single.
Red Hill quickly got back in the game, however, putting together a three-run third inning that included four hits.
The score remained 4-3 in favor of the Lady Eagles over the next 3 1/2 innings, as Mulberry Grove could not capitalize on a handful of scoring opportunities.
Sumner Red Hill then completed its comeback with a run in the sixth, as Andie Sherer singled with one out and scored on a Shelby Seitzinger single that was misplayed in the outfield.
Seitzinger advanced to second on the play, but was stranded there, as Becca Oldham struck out the next two hitters.
The Lady Eagles couldn’t get that run back in the top of the seventh, however, as Oldham was stranded on third after tripling with two outs.
Ashlynn Carr then led off Sumner Red Hill’s half of the seventh with a single before advancing to second on a groundout.
Carr then scored the game-winner all the way from second with two outs on a grounder to second that took a bad hop and could not be handled. Despite the bad hop, the play was scored an error.
April Stich led Mulberry Grove with two hits and an RBI, while Oldham had two hits.
Downs Tri-Valley 12,
Mulberry Grove 2
In a game that started less than a half hour after the Lady Eagles’ semifinal defeat, Downs Tri-Valley took charge from the start, scoring three in the first.
Tri-Valley went on to bang out 18 hits. Josie Koontz had one of Mulberry Grove’s six hits and the Lady Eagles’ lone RBI
Mulberry Grove 8,
Springfield Christ the King 0
The Lady Eagles couldn’t have gotten off to a better start than they did Friday, as Oldham, Emily Thacker, Kate Joliff and Ashlee Stich banged out four consecutive hits to start the game.
The latter hit by Stich – a two-strike double – plated two runs. The Lady Eagles then went up 3-0 as Springfield CTK’s second baseman was unable to handle a hard grounder by Sam Goodin, and Tompkins followed with an RBI single.
Goodin added an RBI groundout in the third, scoring Stich, who tripled with one out.
Oldham helped her own cause with an RBI single in the fourth, and Stich capped a three-hit day with an RBI single in the fifth. She scored the Lady Eagles’ final run from third base moments later on a wild pitch.
After surrendering hits in the first and second innings, Oldham found her groove, no-hitting Springfield CTK over the final five innings in a two-hit shutout.
Oldham struck out 12 and walked none in her first-ever state tournament start.
Goodin, Oldham, Joliff and Tompkins finished with two hits apiece.