Dupo head softball coach Greg Pennock worked most of the week convincing his Tigers that Friday’s Class 2A state semifinal was just another game.
After they executed their way to a 5-1 win over Elgin St. Edward, the words to express his excitement got caught in the cool coach’s throat.
“Good for these girls,” he said choking up. “They work their ... you know ... sorry.”
The victory was the Tigers’ first ever in three state tournament games. They’ll face Carterville (31-3) for the Class 2A state championship at Eastside Centre in East Peoria Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Carterville defeated Rockridge, 6-5, in the day’s other semifinal game.
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It’s less the history of the occasion than the way the Tigers made it that roused Pennock’s emotions, he said.
Dupo’s approach all season has been to minimize strikeouts and force the opposition to make plays. That figured to be a tall order against St. Edward senior Lindsay Zdroik, the Southeast Missouri State-bound pitcher who had struck out 236 batters over 133 innings this season.
She got just four Tigers out on strikes Friday.
I just knew I had to get it in the dirt and it needed to be it fair. Other than that, I try to let my speed work for me. I'm a slapper so I have to get my feet working faster. If I don't do that my mojo is all off.
Alyssa Strubberg, Dupo senior had three bunt singles and scored three runs
“That’s the secret to a lot of teams winning. I know that’s what helps us,” Pennock said. “We got some video of that girl and all her strikeouts and watched them in the hotel this morning. It’s easy to get scared or nervous, But we got our hacks. Our goal was to make their defense get more outs than she got.”
Senior lead-off batter Alyssa Strubberg sparked the offense with three bunt hits, all of which resulted in runs scored. Catcher Rachael Donald struck the biggest blow for Dupo, though with a two-strike, two-out, bases-loaded double that stretched a one-run lead over Zdroik to four.
Jessica Stansch also was at her best in the pitcher’s circle, scattering five St. Edward hits across six and two-third innings while walking none. She struck out four while never facing more than four batters in an inning.
Stansch won’t break the radar gun, topping out at 55 mph once during the game. Her changeup, however, was consistently around 30 mph and her location was spot on.
“I have to pitch to contact because I lack speed,” she said. “I don’t know why the changeup was working so well, I just let it go.”
Strubberg led off the game by pushing a bunt past the charging third baseman. The ball followed the chalk line nearly the entire length before hitting the third base bag. She stole second and scored on a hit by Taylor Esmon when St. Edward left fielder Sarah Mendoza bobbled the ball.
“I just knew I had to get it in the dirt and it needed to be it fair,” Strubberg said of her approach to Zdroik. “Other than that, I try to let my speed work for me. I’m a slapper so I have to get my feet working faster. If I don’t do that my mojo is all off.”
We had watched a few videos of her this morning and we knew she was a lot of up and I knew I had to lay off of that. As the at-bat went on she tried to come in on me and I laid off that too. I took a few pitches, made her throw to me and I took that outside one.
Rachael Donald, Dupo senior catcher on her approach to St. Edward pitcher Lindsay Zdroik
The first two batters of the Dupo second struck out, but the Tigers loaded the bases on consecutive bunt hits by Caitlyn Brizzi and Strubberg and a walk to Skylure Barlow.
Donald — Dupo’s season leader with 33 RBIs — ran the count full against Zdroik, then ripped a double past the center fielder to clear the bases.
“We had watched a few videos of her this morning and we knew she was a lot of up and I knew I had to lay off of that,” Donald said. “As the at-bat went on she tried to come in on me and I laid off that too. I took a few pitches, made her throw to me and I took that outside one.”
Dupo scratched out a final insurance run in the fourth with a one-out bunt single by Strubberg, who then stole second. Donald hit a one-hopper that handcuffed the shortstop and skipped into left field, allowing Strubberg to score.
“You can’t have a better day than Alyssa had,” Pennock said. “How do you read the defense while that kid is pitching the ball to you? Is that amazing? She saw that kid coming at her and just pushed that first one right by her than did it to her again on the other side. The kid was hugging the line so she shot it to the other side. I don’t know if she’s lucky or if she’s just that tight right now, but she sure looks like she knows what she’s doing.”
We got some video of that girl and all her strikeouts and watched them in the hotel this morning. It's easy to get scared or nervous, But we got our hacks. Our goal was to make their defense get more outs than she got.
Greg Pennock, Dupo head coach on facing St. Edward pitcher Lindsay Zdroik
Edward County got it’s only run in the sixth on a base hit and two-base error off the bat of Allie Stratman. She scored on a sacrifice fly.
Zdroik finished strong for St. Edward, allowing the one unearned run after the second. She allowed seven Dupo hits, but five of them were on bunts.
Megan Brown, who yielded innings to Stansch as she continued to nurse tendonitis in her throwing arm, entered the game in the bottom of the seventh and strike out the only batter she faced on three pitches.
Stratman has two hits for St. Edward and Zdroik had the only RBI.
St. Edward will play for third place Saturday at 3 p.m.
Illinois Class 2A State Championship Matchup
Head Coach: Greg Pennock (7 years, 118-75)
Pitching: Jessica Stansch (135 IP, 18-5, 2.18 ERA, 115 K, 40 BB); Megan Brown (18 IP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 25 K, 5 BB)
Offense: Skylure Barlow (.413, 2 HR, 20 RBI); Megan Brown (.364, 4 HR, 21 RBI); Rachael Donald (.468, 2 HR, 16 2B, 33 RBI); Taylor Esmon (.514, 2 HR, 22 RBI); Amber Mobbs (.453, 24 runs).
Last Year: Lost to Pleasant Plains, 2-0, in sectional semifinal
IHSA History: Placed fourth in Class 1A in 2009
Conference: So. Illinois River-to-River
Head Coach: Will Capie (1st year, 30-3)
Pitching: Avery English (126 IP, 18-1, 0.56 ERA, 180 K, 13 BB); Baleigh Koester (100 IP, 12-2, 1.12 ERA, 109 K, 24 BB).
Offense: Megan Barrett (.339, 4 3B, HR, 23 RBI); Avery English (.337, 3 HR, 16 RBI); Sydney Monje (.301, 4 HR, 17 RBI); Montana Taylor (.432, 3 3B, 3 HR, 29 RBI, 31 runs)
Last Year: Lost to Nashville, 2-1, in sectional final
IHSA History: Class 2A State Champion 2008; DNP in 1A 2007; DNP in 1A 2006.