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State Softball: Sandburg stopped in title game by Warren roadblock

The Sandburg girls softball team raises their state runner up trophy. | JCunningham/For Sun-Times Media

The Sandburg girls softball team raises their state runner up trophy. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 16, 2014 6:45AM



EAST PEORIA, Ill. — If first-year coach Bryan McNulty wanted to keep Warren off the radar this spring, he did a pretty good job.

The Blue Devils started the season with a 9-6 record and lost three games in a row on two separate occasions.

But guided by McNulty, Warren stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight Saturday at the EastSide Centre, grabbing an 8-4 win over Sandburg in the Class 4A state championship game.

“I believe the difference maker for us was our offseason training program,” said McNulty, who has been with the Blue Devils for seven years as either the hitting coach on varsity or the JV coach. “These kids come in so skilled — their travel coaches do such a great job with them. Our weight program kept us in the right shape.”

Warren (28-9) made its first state softball appearance since 1980. After winning a state title in 2010, Sandburg (24-16) placed for the ninth time in program history and the third in Jim Fabianski’s ninth season.

The Blue Devils took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a two-run double by Crystal Pennell (2-for-4) against Sandburg starter Sarah Herold. The Eagles answered with three runs in the fourth, highlighted by an RBI single by Kristen Zarate, a throwing error and a perfectly executed squeeze by Cierra Adamus, bringing home Zarate for a 3-2 lead.

Emily Griskell (5-4) relieved Herold in the top of the third and pitched two shoutout innings until the fifth, when the Blue Devils scored twice on an RBI single by Megan Scott and a throwing error that scored Michelle Vasen (2-for-5). A diving play up the middle by Adamus, the shortstop, kept the Eagles within 4-3.

The Blue Devils, though, added three runs in the sixth on an error and four hits, featuring a two-run single by Rachele Belletini.

“Right from the get go they were putting the bat on the ball with [Herold],” Fabianski said. “On our team, we just don’t have one pitcher, so that’s why we made the move.”

Warren starter Jana Wagner (16-3) went the distance, striking out three and giving up eight hits. Amber Leneau (2-for-4) iced the game with her first-ever homer at any level in the top of the seventh. Jazmin Bonke was 3-for-4 with a sacrifice bunt.

“I knew the team had potential since we were a different type of team from last year,” said Wagner, who will play at Palm Beach Atlantic in Florida next fall. “We never dwelled on losses from the start — we knew we would eventually pull it out.”

Sandburg entered the playoffs with an 18-15 record and would have tied Marist in 2012 with the most losses by a state champion. The Eagles had one of the toughest playoff roads to the state, beating Mother McAuley, Marist, Naperville Central, and Lincoln-Way East.

Briana Soltis led Sandburg with a triple and an RBI. Madeline Hanley and Griskell added a double and Karli McLaughlin was 2-for-3.

“To be honest, I think the Lincoln-Way East Sectional was tougher,” Fabianski said. “I thought because of the tough road we had that we had a real good shot of winning this.”



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