Softball: Plenty of heroes in Lincoln-Way East’s victory
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org June 9, 2014 11:06PM
Updated: July 11, 2014 6:31AM
Nikole Van Gennep. Blake Ruiz. Ashley Hesse.
They were heroes for Lincoln-Way East in its breathtaking 4-3 win in eight innings over Edwardsville in the Class 4A Normal Supersectional on Monday at Illinois State University.
They were the top-tier heroes, anyway.
There were more clutch performers for East (27-10), which will meet SouthWest Suburban Conference rival Sandburg (23-15) in a Class 4A semifinal Friday at EastSide Centre in East Peoria.
“I am so proud of my team right now,” Ruiz said. “I don’t have any words to describe it. The feeling is awesome. I love my team so much, I am literally speechless.”
It was a game that started with fireworks and was bathed in late-inning drama.
After East struck in the top of the first on a two-run double by Ruiz and Edwardsville responded in the bottom with an RBI double by Rachel Anderson, the slugfest suddenly turned into a pitcher’s duel.
Van Gennep blanked Edwardsville over the next four innings while Kallen Loveless did the same to East over the next five.
In the bottom of the sixth, Edwardsville tied it up on an RBI single by Torrie Kruse. Van Gennep, however, was able to pitch out of a second-and-third situation.
That was nothing compared to what Van Gennep faced in the bottom of the seventh, when the Tigers put runners on first and third with nobody out.
“At that point I just tried to keep myself calm,” Van Gennep said. “I just realized that I had my team behind me and that I would be fine either way.”
Hesse, playing at first base, backed her up by snaring a sharp ground ball by Ari Arnold and throwing Olivia Nicholls out at the plate.
“It all happened so fast. Quick reflexes, I guess,” Hesse said. “You don’t even think at that moment. You just react.”
Edwardsville then loaded the bases with one out before Van Gennep recorded perhaps the biggest two strikeouts of her life.
“Curveballs,” Van Gennep said. “After the second (strikeout) we were just so pumped. I was so excited. The team was so excited.”
With two on and one out in the top of the eighth, Ruiz came to the plate for East and drilled a pitch to the gap in left-center for an RBI single. Nicole O’Donnell followed with a bloop RBI single down the third-base line to make it 4-2.
But it was far from over.
Edwardsville went down kicking as Hayli Green and Jordan Corby opened with back-to-back doubles, creating more drama for Van Gennep.
“You just have to stay focused,” Van Gennep said. “I just told myself, ‘Do what you’ve been doing the whole game.’ ”
Corby eventually would find her way to third, when with two outs Anna Walshleger slapped a low, snaking liner to left field. Jenny Van Geertry streaked in for East and made a basket catch to end the game.
“Very nervous,” Van Geertry said, smiling. “In games like this when your adrenaline is rushing so much … I thought I wasn’t going to be there in time but I was, so I thank God for that.
“Honestly, all I can say for this game is that Nikole is an awesome pitcher.”