High school softball: Huntley holds off Marist to reach Class 4A state title game

EAST PEORIA – Marist rolled into the Class 4A state tournament semifinals with 35 straight victories and, maybe more remarkably, had not lost to a single team from Illinois all season.

Huntley, making its first state appearance in program history, put an end to both impressive streaks, upsetting the RedHawks, 3-2, Friday at the EastSide Centre and claiming a spot in the championship game.

Huntley (34-7) advances to play St. Charles East (26-10) – which beat Joliet West, 3-2, in the first semifinal – at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The Red Raiders shut out St. Charles East, 9-0, on April 13 and go into the final game of the season with an 18-game winning streak of their own.

“It just shows we can play any team in state,” Huntley senior center fielder Kendra Mitchell said. "Bring any team to us, and we've got it. We'll be in it. Wins and records, it doesn’t matter. We know we can play with anybody."

The Raiders scored all three of their runs against RedHawks senior and Northwestern commit Angela Zedak in the third inning after striking out four times in their first six plate appearances. In a scoreless game, sophomore catcher Lindsay Morgan started the third with a booming blast to center field, hitting the top of the fence for a leadoff double.

After a strikeout, No. 9 hitter Taylor Zielinski drew a walk. Mitchell then laced a single through the left side of the infield to score courtesy runner Abigail Simandl. Reese Hunkins drew a walk, followed by a run-scoring single from Sofia Tenuta. After a hit-by-pitch, Grace Kutz drove in the Raiders' third run of the inning for a 3-0 lead.

“Honestly, we knew we could beat them from the beginning," Morgan said. "We just had to have more confidence. I didn’t think of it as, 'This pitcher is going [to a Division I school].' I saw it as another game. I really felt my team deserved this. Everybody on this team works so hard, and I really just wanted to start it all."

Huntley had four of its six hits in the third inning, while the RedHawks stranded five runners through the first four innings. Marist (36-3) broke through with a run in the fifth and and a run in the sixth.

Huntley sophomore pitcher Briana Bower pitched around two errors in the sixth, leaving the bases loaded. A hard smash from Zedak with two outs was caught by Mitchell to end the threat.

It was one of many hard-hit balls by the RedHawks, who have 11 D-I players on their roster.

"We hit the ball very hard," RedHawks coach Colleen Biebel said. "They came out swinging, they attacked, and they laid off the hard pitch. We hit line drives at them all day. There's nothing we can do about that."

Bower, who allowed two unearned runs on six hits, retired the side in order in the seventh to seal the win. Lexi Voss hit a high flyball to Zielinski, who snagged the ball in right and raced into the infield to celebrate with the rest of her teammates.

“I looked to Bri and said, ‘It’s your best versus their best,'" Huntley coach Mark Petryniec said of facing Marist's Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the seventh inning. "There’s no other way. ‘You play at the next level, and this is what you’re going to see.'"

Bower, who was named the 2019 Northwest Herald Softball Player of the Year on Wednesday, went into the game with 339 strikeouts. She had only one Friday, but it didn't matter in the end.

"Today, nothing was working, but my teammates did it," Bower said. "I'm so proud of all of them. It's great for our community, school, all of our coaches and our fans. It's a great feeling."

Class 4A State Tournament

Huntley 3, Marist 2

Marist 000 011 0 – 2 6 1

Huntley 003 000 0 – 3 6 3

WP: Bower (7IP, 6H, 2R, 0ER, 0BB, 1K). LP: Zedak (6IP, 6H, 3R, 3ER, 3BB, 7K)

Top hitters–Marist: Balich 2-3, Garofalo 1-3 (RBI). Huntley: Morgan 2-3 (2B), Mitchell 1-3 (RBI), Tenuta 1-3 (RBI), Kutz 1-3 (RBI). 

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