NORMAL — There were stretches this season when the Minooka softball team showed signs of playing at the level that it has during the Class 4A state series.
The Indians, who have scored 39 runs in five playoff games, did score 50 runs while winning their first five games of the season. They reached double digits in runs five times during the regular season, and they scored eight or more runs a total of nine times.
Until recently, the problem was consistency. There was a stretch of four consecutive Minooka losses in April in which it scored a total of two runs. In back-to-back Southwest Prairie Conference losses to Plainfield North and Plainfield East in early May, the Indians mustered just three runs.
“We did struggle at times this season,” senior shortstop and pitcher Sara Novak said following an 8-0 win over Normal West Monday at the Illinois State University Super-Sectional. “It was tough to play with consistency with the weather and games getting canceled all the time, but it still got to be disappointing. Once we knew we couldn’t win the conference, we turned our focus to being ready to play well late in the year. I think we’re clicking on all cylinders now.”
While the Indians have had more regular-season and conference success in past seasons than they did this spring, their postseason history has not been as rich. Minooka had never won a sectional championship before doing so last week at Lincoln-Way East, let alone gone to state.
Last year, the Indians were the top seed at their own regional, yet they were a 6-1 loser to Joliet West in the championship game. Novak was in her third varsity season at the time; each of them ended with a loss in the regional championship.
Seeded ninth in their sectional this year, they defeated top-seeded Lincoln-Way East to win the Crete-Monee Regional and have not looked back since.
“We had hoped to do this last year, but we got knocked out in the regional championship,” pitcher and infielder Jackie Lilek said. “We felt like we had too good a group to let that happen again this year.”
It would be difficult to call the Indians the on-paper favorite going into any of their last four playoff games. Lincoln-Way East was deemed better than Minooka and everyone else in its sectional when seeds were assigned. Lockport, the Indians’ victim in the sectional semifinals, won 24 games and built a 13-4 lead on the Indians before they stormed back to win. Plainfield Central, which faced Minooka in the sectional final, was a 28-win team. Normal West won 31 games.
“We’re pretty much just the underdogs. That’s what I would call us. People keep underestimating us, and now we’re going to state,” infielder Rachel May said.