EAST PEORIA – Two lightning delays lasted nearly as long as Friday’s Class 3A semifinal softball game between Providence Catholic and Kaneland.
But in between the stops and starts, there were some constants for the Knights, including consistent hitting throughout the lineup and a strong pitching effort from Emilee Erickson.
Kaneland scored four runs in the third inning to take control and banged out 14 hits while Erickson tossed a six-hitter as it captured an 8-1 victory over the Celtics at EastSide Centre.
As a result, the Knights (27-9) advanced to their first state championship game in the sport against Montini.
“Give credit to them since they were putting the ball in play,” Celtics coach Jay Biesterfeld said. “A lot of those were just hard ground balls, and the infield is hard and fast, so those balls were scooting through, and that’s all that you have to do, put the ball on the ground. If it wasn’t hit right at you, it was hard to make a play. They took advantage of how the field was playing, and you have to give them credit for that.
“The second delay was kind of frustrating since it felt like were maybe starting to piece a little momentum together. We already were down five, so if we could have got or two there, you kind of feel like you got yourself back in the game. I know that we can play better, and it wasn’t our best game but they beat us today. They deserved to win the game.”
In Kaneland’s third, Donatela Sommesi (3 for 5) and Rose Roach (2 for 4, two RBIs) led off with singles and Hailey Roach (2 for 3) reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases with no outs. Hannah Theobald followed with a two-run single up the middle and Katie Kurzrock drove in the third run with a sacrifice fly. Natalie Kraemer’s RBI single made it a 4-0 game.
After scoring a single run in the fourth inning, the Knights broke things open with a three-run sixth. Maddy Wheatley also went 3 for 4 for Kaneland, whose best previous finish at state was third place in 2015. The Celtics hope to bounce back with a win, which would equal their best finish in the sport, when they finished third in 2012 in their only other state trip.
Providence finally got on the scoreboard in the seventh. Emily Pilon led off with a double and Maggie Joutras (2 for 2) followed with a single. Then, Teagan Sopczak grounded out to drive in her team’s lone run before Erickson retired the final two hitters she faced.
“The girls take pride every time that they take the field,” Biesterfeld said. “So I know that they’ll come ready to go, and we’re going to try to win that game tomorrow. The bottom line is that we came here to win two games. We didn’t win the first one, but everybody wants to win their last game. We have an opportunity to win our last game, so we’ll come out fighting.”