New Athens pitcher Julia Drake reflects on loss to Goreville
The New Athens softball team had survived enough close calls and rallied from behind so many times, coach Conrad Widdersheim believed destiny had a hand in his team's 25 victories.
But fate betrayed the Yellow Jackets on Monday.
Champions of the Okawville Regional and Marissa Sectional, New Athens spotted Goreville an early lead and fell, 4-1, at the IHSA Class 1A Super-Sectional in Johnston City.
"We have won games we shouldn't have won, if you want to know the absolute truth about it," said Widdersheim, still emotional from his last talk with his team. "I really, really thought this was our year and the girls bought into it. They thought it was too."
Instead, the season ends for the Yellow Jackets with a record of 25-5. Goreville (24-10), the defending Class 1A state champions, earned their shot at a repeat this weekend in Peoria.
New Athens sophomore pitcher Julia Drake allowed just four base runners in the second through sixth innings. She struck out three and walked just one along the way while also pitching her way around a one-out triple by Goreville catcher Samantha Licka in the fifth.
But it was Licka's two-run homer that put the exclamation mark on a four-run first for the Black Cats. It was all Goreville needed.
"It's kind of how I've been all post-season," said Drake, who won 23 games with a 1.37 ERA this season. "I have somewhat of a rough first inning, then get more comfortable. I've been trying to work it out."
In the Saturday's sectional championship win over Marissa, it was Casey Wilderman's solo home run that ignited a nine-run seventh for the Yellow Jackets.
Widdersheim hoped Drake's solo shot in the fourth on Monday would provide some of that same spark.
"The thing with our bats is there have been multiple times during the season where we've been super cold like we were out there today and all it takes is one swing ...." he said. "Our hitting has been incredibly contagious this year."
But New Athens had just one other hit during the game, an infield single by Bre Mijzel in the fifth.
Goreville pitcher Chloe Wolaver otherwise benefited by strong defense behind her. New Athens third baseman Lindsay Poirot was robbed on a diving catch by right fielder Lexi King to lead off the sixth.
Drake reached on an error with one out, but Wolaver coaxed an inning-ending double play.
"We put a lot of balls in play against this pitcher, but unfortunately she had a good drop and good movement and we just kept getting on top," Widdersheim said. "They made some great defensive plays, too, to stymie any push we had. I thought we had a chance there, but they just shut the door on us."
New Athens had won nine games in a row and 13 of its last 14. The Yellow Jackets also saw their seasons end in the super-sectionals in both 2014 and 2016.
"It's really tough to see it over, but we're going to look back on the season and be really proud of it," Widdersheim said.