Baranek: Believers? Marist had its share
Tony Baranek email@example.com | (708) 633-5947 June 9, 2012 9:26PM
Marist's Kristin Klutcharch picked up the victory in the circle for the RedHawks in the championship game against Bartlett. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 9, 2012 2:51AM
EAST PEORIA — Wendy, you were right.
The Wendy I’m talking about is Tinley Park softball coach Wendy Podbielniak, and what she was right about was her prediction regarding Marist’s record-setting softball team.
It came during a phone conversation we were having the day after her Titans were eliminated by Providence in excruciating fashion in the Class 3A sectional semifinals.
First we talked about the loss, then we talked about what would happen next.
She predicted good things for Providence, which went on to make a historic run of its own to state and finish third in Class 3A.
She also had something to say about the Class 4A playoffs, specifically the Sandburg Sectional.
“Watch out for Marist,” said Podbielniak, who went on to talk about how great a coach Denise Bromberek is and how she’d have the kids ready to play Sandburg in the semifinals.
She also predicted that Marist could go a long way.
I sort of chuckled and said, “OK, I’ll take Sandburg.” The Eagles had just shocked Andrew in the regional final and looked about to go on one of their crazy postseason rolls.
Yeah, well. We all know how that worked out. Sandburg led in the sixth inning only to have Brooke Wyderski hit a prodigious two-run home run and Maggie Gorman a walkoff single to lead Marist to a 6-5 victory.
I thought about that conversation on Saturday while watching Marist roll to a 5-0 victory over Bartlett to claim the school’s first-ever state title by a girls team.
I mean, who saw this coming? Besides Wendy, I mean.
After Friday’s 2-0 semifinal victory over Elk Grove, I walked in on an interview involving Gorman, who had socked the game-winning two-run home run.
The first words I heard her say were, “I still can’t believe it.”
“Still can’t believe what?” I asked.
“I still can’t believe we’re here,” she said with a smile. “And then we won, too.”
Even she didn’t see it coming. She wasn’t alone.
I started the RedHawks out at No. 6 in the preseason rankings, figuring that although they were young they’d still win more than their share of games.
After they began 0-2 with losses to Richards and Andrew, they fell to No. 8.
After a 1-0 loss to Minooka on April 23, Marist dropped out of the Top 10 for the first time in, maybe, ever.
The next week, the RedHawks got back in, and they hovered near the bottom of the rankings all season, seemingly stuck in first gear. It was mostly win a couple, lose a couple. There was one stretch in which they won eight in a row, only to promptly lose seven of their next eight.
On May 10, after a 3-1 loss to Lockport, the RedHawks were 15-15, out of the East Suburban Catholic Conference race and off anybody’s radar screen when it came to talking about state championship contenders.
And why not? No team in the history of Illinois softball has ever had 15 losses and made it to a state title game.
The beauty of high school sports is a lot of kids don’t know when they aren’t supposed to come out of nowhere and shock the world. Surely those Lincoln-Way East Griffins, who took 11 losses into the state playoffs in their first year of existence in 2002, didn’t know all the way to the Class AA state title.
Aimee Lonigro, the coach of those Griffins, is a lot like Denise Bromberek. Bromberek might not always make her players want to send her a Christmas card, but she never gives up the fight and always pushes them to their limits.
How do I know? The kids tell me. Wendy Podbielniak, who worked with her for a season as an assistant, told me. I’ve seen Bromberek’s intensity, going all the way back to the days when she was a spitfire on the varsity team at Oak Lawn.
This particular time, with the season heading into the final turn, Bromberek made batting order changes. She made challenges. She probably said things the RedHawks players didn’t want to hear. But one of them, I can assure you, wasn’t, “You can’t do this.”
So, not knowing any better, they did.
From Nicole Babrowski to Katie Caulfield. From Brooke Wyderski to Maggie Gorman. From Haley Richy to Audra Hecker to Brooke Wilson. From Kaitlin Kenny to Ashlynn Kokaska to the pitcher who seemed so easy to hit but nobody could, Kristin Klutcharch.
Throw in Angela Sorrentino, Lauren Holt and Ashley Rios off the bench and you’ve got a very real state champion.
Believe it or not.