EAST PEORIA – In a postseason that has featured several big surprises involving longtime powers, it only seems appropriate that the Class 4A softball championship game would involve two programs that are making their first appearances in the state finals.
Plainfield North made a very successful state debut Friday at EastSide Centre by scoring three times in the second inning and grabbing a 5-0 lead after four frames to help it capture a 7-0 victory over a Palatine squad that was also making its first state visit.
Coach Kelly Ash’s Tigers (32-5) met another tourney newcomer, Rock Island (31-5), in Saturday’s title game, which was moved up to 1:30 p.m. due to weather concerns.
Greta Thompson tossed a four-hitter and also struck out seven while Sam Mallinder went 2 for 4 with a home run and two RBIs to lead North, which had 10 hits.
Palatine (29-6) hadn’t been shut out all season and had collected six or more runs in 24 games, but it only threatened a few times. Its best threat in the fourth was dashed when Thompson got out of a bases-loaded jam by coaxing a grounder on a two-out, full-count pitch.
“I just moved the ball around and tried to keep them off balance as much as we could,” Thompson said. “Defensively, we’re always really solid, and they have my back, and we also had 10 hits, and we tried to score in every inning, and that really changed the whole game. We’ve been working together since January, and a lot of us have played together for a long time. We’ve all been working, and waiting for this moment, and now it’s here, so we just have to go out and perform.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers used the same aggressive small ball that has proved to be so effective for them this year to collect three runs on only one hit while benefiting from three errors in the second inning to move in front for good.
Kaelin Callow led off with a walk and stole second before Bailey Weck sacrificed her over and reached on an error as Callow scored. Hailey Kuriger also reached on an error after a sacrifice as Weck scored and Jenna Dunbar singled to right to make it a 3-0 contest.
The Tigers added a run in the third when Ryan Shaugnessy led off with an infield hit and stole second before scoring on a double to left by Mallinder.
“There was a lot of energy, and we were all zoned in right from the beginning,” Mallinder said. “Greta was a beast out there, and I wasn’t expecting them to get many hits off of her. Small ball was a really good way to put the pressure on them, and we just executed. This means the world to us. It’s been a dream of mine, and I’m sure it’s the same for the rest of my team. We were expecting to be good, but this is beyond my wildest dreams. This is an amazing opportunity, and if we play like we did today, hopefully we’ll pull out the championship.”
North took a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning when Kuriger led off with a single and came all the way around from first on a double to center by Thompson, which knocked Pirates starter Sarah Grossman out of the game.
In the seventh, the Tigers closed out the scoring as Mallinder homered to left, and Callow followed with a single and later scored on a single to center by Kennedy.
“We knew that Greta would do well, so we just needed to play good defense and come ready to hit, and that’s what we focused on today and yesterday in practice,” Ash said. “We jumped on them early and made things happen and found the holes, and they had three errors, and we had one, and that was the difference in the game. I told them before the game that they all play travel ball, and this was just another tournament, and we are in the finals. So go out with confidence and play hard and good things will happen, and they did the job.”