EAST PEORIA — While the Minooka softball team was front and center in terms of hitting home runs this past weekend at the IHSA Class State Finals, all the attention leading up to the action down at EastSide Centre was on Barrington.
Heading into action over the weekend, the Fillies had hit 54 home runs as a team. Barrington was led by the 18 hit by Loren Krzysko and the team mark would have been an IHSA team record this year were it not for Trinity breaking the State record this year with 60.
However, the Fillies did not homer in either the semifinal game against St. Charles East or in the third place game against York. Meanwhile, the Indians hit two on Friday (Kelsey Smith and Jordyn Larsen) and then three more on Saturday to end with 21 for the season. Larsen, Sara Novak and Rachel May hit the homers in the championship game.
‘It feels amazing. I never thought my senior year would ever be like this,” Minooka senior Ali Bagley said. “We really went out with a bang.”
For most of the season, Minooka coach Mark Brown had relied on the pitching tandem of Jackie Lilek and Sara Novak to get the job done. It was the same this weekend as Lilek started both the semifinal game against York and the championship game against St. Charles East.
Novak got both wins in relief, but it really was all part of the plan — right into the championship game against East.
“We wanted to get Jackie at least two or three (innings), but they we’re picking up on her rotation. They scored three runs there but they weren’t hitting her too hard. They dinked her to death,” Minooka coach Mark Brown said. “We thought we could then bring in Sara and get the last five. It was the chance to give them two different looks and a chance to keep them off balance. We kept them to three and who would have thought we’d score 14?”
Lilek went two innings in both the semifinal against York and again in the title game before yielding to Novak. Novak pitched a combined 10 innings over the two days, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out 13.
“Last year she (Novak) struck out something like 221 batters and she was almost un-hittable,” Brown said. “So, I’ve seen her pitch this well, but not in this kind of a setting against such quality teams. She’s amazing.”
Novak finishes the year with an 8-4 record while Lilek ends at 13-3.
True Comeback Story
Lilek batted 3-for-7 in the two state games with a double and an RBI in addition to pitching. It proves to be a right-fine ending to a high school career that started off shaky because of injuries.
“Freshman year I didn’t get to be a part of the playoffs because of an ACL injury. But I battled back before I tore my other ACL and had to battle back again,” Lilek said. “Now we’re here a year later and we’ve won state.”
The University of North Dakota awaits Lilek in the fall where she will continue playing softball. She said that the best advice for someone coming back from injuries like hers is to just keep working.
“Take advantage of the time you have and don’’t miss a chance to keep improving because you have to make up for the lost time that other people have,” she said.
Novak’s Historic Day
Novak went 4-for-4 at the plate in the title game against St. Charles East. That is not only a Class 4A record, it also ties her for the best championship game ever. In the 2009 2A title game, Hailley Hanning of Stanford Olympia had four hits and in the 2012 2A title game Kiley Pelker also had four hits.
“She really is the best softball player, on both sides of the ball that I’ve ever coached. Back on signing night, Sara signed to Wisconsin and Rachel (May) to UIC that our goal was to send them off with a state championship,” Brown said. “Now it’s real and I can’t believe it.”
Barrington won the third place game by beating York 5-1, and even after going 0-2, Dukes coach Drew McGuire said the ride that went through Mizuno Field was the best.
“This is unreal. We were probably the team that was least expected to be here,” McGuire said. “These girls did a phenomenal job.”
Barrington lost in walk-off fashion to East 3-2 on Friday. Yet even coach Perry Peterson was upbeat that his team got to experience the state setting again.
“This feels great and I’m so happy for the kids who worked so hard,” he said. “We won 36 of 38 games and that’s the best winning percentage in school history.”
Even East coach Kelly Horan was quoted by the Kane County Chronicle that the second-place finish was “pretty awesome”.
Proof that the IHSA state series is alive and well.