Dempsey Witte first met Randy Wolken in 2011, shortly after accepting the head coach’s job at Nashville High School.
Wolken, whose 948 wins in 36 years at St. Joseph-Ogden is a state record, is renown for his use of team speed to pressure an opponent. It’s a philosphy that Witte says he wanted to emulate since hearing the legendary Illinois softball coach speak at that coaches clinic more than four years ago.
The Hornets have had success with the Wolken Way, earning a state championship and a third-place finish since the two coaches first met.
Witte will get the chance to match witts with his mentor at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the first semifinal of the Class 2A State Tournament. Whichever team wins will play for the state championship against either Brimfield Co-op or Kankakee McNamara.
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“Randy has a great philosophy about using his speed and putting pressure on the other team,” Witte said. “After listening to him speak, I knew I wanted to adopt that philosophy in Nashville.”
Testament to Wolken’s affinity for the speed game is written all over the state record book. Seven of the top 15 on the career stolen base list hail from St. Joseph, including the top two. Lindsey Barron herself ranks first and third on the season’s list.
Putting the brakes on the Spartans (33-3) will start with Nashville senior pitcher Maci Ingram, who will be making her third trip of her high school career to the state tournament. She’s 30-2 with a 0.62 earned run average and has struck out 396 batters in 214 innings.
“Everybody who knows St. Joe’s softball knows that Randy likes speed and likes to use it,” Witte said. “We hope to neutralize that with Maci. The best way to stop them is by keeping them from getting on.”
Ingram will be up against a group that hits .412 as a team, even with just one contributing senior on the roster. That senior, Mady Poulter, leads the offense with a .532 batting average with 17 doubles, six triples, seven home runs and 48 RBIs.
St. Joseph’s pitcher Tori Witruck (220 IP, 31-2, 2.00 ERA) has her hands full, too, with the Hornets.
Jordi Harre sets the tone for the Nashville offense with a .510 average. Emily Thompson leads with six home runs and 54 RBIs, and catcher Daley Buchanan brings a .402 average and nine doubles.
“We are a lot like them. We have a nice blend on offense — a couple slap hitters who can get on, some girls with a little bit of power,” Witte said. “We can score a lot of different ways.”
The difference, Witte hopes, will be experience.
The four Nashville seniors have gone 144-14 in their careers, including a state title as freshmen, a third-place finish as sophomores, and a 37-2 record this season.
“The coaches and I were just talking about how special this group is,” Witte said. “Seeing their faces after they win a regional or a sectional, and how the families joined them on the field to take pictures. ... They’ll have those memories of going to state and being together as a family.”
Witte and Wolken have faced each other before. The Hornets defeated St. Joe’s 5-2 in the 2012 semifinals. And then they won it all.
“It was a great experience for me in 2012 to win that last game for a state championship,” Witte said. “Maybe it’s just me being greedy, but I want to do it again.”
IHSA CLASS 2A STATE SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT
Eastside Centre, East Peoria
FRIDAY’S SEMIFINALS: Brimfield Co-Op v. Kankakee McNamara 3 p.m.; Nasvhille v. St. Joseph-Ogden 5:30 p.m.
SATURDAY’S FINALS: Third place, 3 p.m.; Championship 5:30 p.m.
Coach: Dempsey Witte (5 yrs, 171-19)
Top hitters: Jordi Harre (.510, 61 runs, 22 RBIs, Emily Thompson (.408, 10 2Bs, 3 3Bs, 6 HRs, 54 RBIs); Karly Stanowski (.354, 15 2Bs, 6 HRs, 30 RBIs); Deidra Holzhauer (.359, 4 HRs, 43 RBIs).
Top pitcher: Maci Ingram (214 IP, 30-2, 396 Ks, 19 BBs, 0.62 ERA)
Last year: Lost to Carterville in sectional final
Coach: Randy Wolken (36 yrs, state record 948-222)
Top hitters: Andrea Coursey (.478, 18 2Bs, 3 3Bs, 8 HRs, 67 RBIs); Mady Poulter (.532, 17 2Bs, 6 3Bs, 7 HR, 48 RBIs); Katelyn Burch (.396, 6 HR, 33 RBI).
Top pitcher: Tori Witruck (220 IP, 31-2, 185 Ks, 2.00 ERA)
Last year: Lost to Tremont in sectional semifinal
Coach: Kurt Juerjens ( 2 yrs., 60-9-1)
Top hitters: Morgan Florey (.517, 16 HRs, 45 RBIs); Kennedy Dura (.343, 38 runs); Morgan Ledbetter (.393 17 2Bs, 7 HRs, 36 RBIs)
Top pitcher: Morgan Florey (153.2 IP, 21-3, 378 Ks, 0.36 ERA)
Last year: Lost to Rock Island Alleman in 2A super-sectional
Coach: Laura Harms (5 yrs, 134-37)
Top hitters: Caitlin Engelking (.492, 9 2Bs, 6 3Bs, 5 HRs, 28 RBIs); Shelby Stauffenberg (.442, 10 2Bs, 7 HRs, 51 RBIs); Baylee Hull (.302, 10 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 5 HRs, 35 RBIs)
Top pitchers: Alex Storako (122 IP, 11-7, 161 Ks, 2.41 ERA); Mikayla Cole (110 IP, 15-3, 78 Ks, 2.35 ERA)
Last year: Lost to Braidwood in regional final