The 18U Black Widows reeled off seven straight victories to capture the North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) Illinois State Championship June 24-26 in Chicago the first time ever competing in it.
The Black Widows fastpitch softball organization is based out of Glen Carbon and this successful 18U team features a couple of key incoming seniors from Highland High School in Aubrey Hacke and Jenna Gnaedinger, as well as 2015 HHS graduate Mallory Rutz and HHS first-year softball coach Greg Exton.
Hacke, Gnaedinger and Exton just finished leading the HHS Bulldogs to a 25-9 record, which included the first outright Mississippi Valley Conference title ever and the Class 3A Columbia Regional crown, while Rutz, who plays right field for the Widows, is fresh off a successful freshman campaign as the third baseman at Wabash Valley College.
The Black Widows won the championship with a 6-2 victory over the McHenry Warriors on Sunday, June 26, which was also coach Exton’s birthday.
“I couldn’t have gotten a birthday gift,” Exton said. “It’s a good group. We have a good core group. Some have been together a few years and then there are a few that just came out recently. They have all meshed together really good.”
The Black Widows’ seven victories came as follows: 6-1 over the Crush Tidal Waves, 6-2 over the Downers Groves Outlaws, 11-2 over the Big Dogs Attack from Rockford, 9-3 over Stateline Fury Red, 7-0 over the New Lexon Power, 8-0 over the McHenry County Warriors, and 6-2 over the McHenry County Warriors in the championship game.
“Our team never gave up and stayed in the winner’s bracket the whole tournament,” Gnaedinger said. “All three pitchers were on this weekend and it was a full team effort! It was our coach Greg Exton's birthday today and he wanted the state championship to be his present and he got his wish; we played that game for him!”
Pitchers Hacke, Gnaedinger and Brittany Roady, along with their air-tight defense, teamed up to surrender just eight earned runs (10 overall) en route to powering the Black Widows to the undefeated 7-0 tournament record that culminated in the squad hoisting the NAFA State Championship trophy.
In the tourney, Hacke and Gnaedinger both went 2-0, with Hacke posting the low ERA at a microscopic 0.54 while Gnaedinger finished with an impressive 2.10 ERA.
In addition, Roady led the way with three wins while she wrapped up with an ERA of 1.65.
True to her double-threat form, Hacke was also a top hitter throughout the tourney as she ranked first on the club with 10 RBI while batting a stout .429.
Additionally, the Black Widows had six other players hit .300 or better: Savannah Fisher (.533), Megan Radae (.474, 10 runs), Baylee Hughes (.474), Rutz (.400), Sara Radae (.318) and Jennifer Werner (.300).
The Black Widows may not compete in the NAFA Nationals to be held in Minnesota July 14-17 but they will compete in the USSSA Illinois State Championships July 8-10 at the new Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in East Peoria before going on to vie in the USSSA Nationals July 21-24 in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.