Softball fans arrived a little earlier to the IHSA 1A and 2A state semifinals at Eastside Centre in East Peoria Friday hoping for a glimpse of Calhoun High School junior pitcher Grace Baalman.
Instead they got an eyeful.
The 6-foot-2 inch Univeristy of Kentucky signee pitched a full 17-innings to shutout Trico and scored the winning run to send her team to the 1A title game Saturday. More than that, she struck out a state-record 39 batters without issuing a walk.
The previous record was held Karen Marie Pena of Rock Island, who struck out 38 batters against East Moline in 22 innings in 1999, and Suzie Rzegocki of Lemont, who matched that effort over 20 innings against Oak Forest in 2007.
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Katie Bertelsen of United High School in Alexis, struck out 34 Cobden batters in a 1A state tournament game in 2009. It took her 19 innings to do it.
Friday, Baalman allowed just four hits and struck out everyone in Trico's batting order at least three times.
We tried to focus early to not chase that rise ball. It's amazing how many times it works where they quit throwing it if you don't keep swinging at it. It helps so you can keep your focus in the zone.
Greg Pennock, Dupo head coach
She and the Warriors (40-2) will face Princeville (35-3) for the 1A state championship Saturday at 12:30 p.m. A win would tie the IHSA record for wins in a season which is shared by Casey-Westfield (1997 and 1998), Nashville (2001), Stanford-Olympia (2003) and St. Joseph-Ogden (2012).
Lost in the Hoopla
Baalman’s record-setting efforts overshadowed another outstanding performance.
Trico sophomore Jade Kranawetter suffered a hard-luck loss despite throwing her own 17-inning masterpiece. She allowed eight Calhoun hits, three of which came during that decisive final inning. Otherwise, she struck out 23 batters and walked five.
Kranawetter, who shut out New Athens in Tuesday’s super-sectional, has committed to pitch at Southern Illinois University Edwarsdville.
Class 2A Title
Dupo will have it's work cut out for it against Carterville in the Class 2A state championship game which is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Carterville (31-3) knocked off Rockridge (33-6), 6-5, in the final semifinal game Friday.
Lady Lions' coach Will Capie devides time in the circle with a pair of capable pitchers. Senior Avery English leads the team with an 18-1 record and 0.56 ERA over 126 innings pitched. She's also struck out 180 batters.
Junior Baleigh Koester has a 12-2 record with a 1.12 ERA and has struck out 109 in 100 innings of work.
Sophomore Montana Taylor is the team's best hitter with a .432 average, seven doubles, three triples and three home runs. She's also driven in 41 runs.
English is hitting .337 with three home runs and 16 RBIs.
Trial by Fire
Dupo coach Greg Pennock believes the Tigers' tough season schedule has prepared them for the quality of pitchers they've seen in the post-season. That list includes O'Fallon's Addison Barnouski, Belleville West's Paige Cates, Highland's Aubrey Hacke, New Athens' Abby Marlow and Steeleville's Sydney Hood.
Friday, the Tigers defeated St. Edward's Lindsay Zdroik, who averages close to two strikeouts per inning over the season. She fanned only four Dupo batters in the semifinals.
I'm just working into some innings, so if there ever comes a time when Jessica is in a jam and I can help out, I'll be ready to go. I'll play my part ... It's really whatever helps my team win at the end of the day.
Megan Brown, Dupo junior
"We see kids who throw like that and, you know, they are not overwhelmed by it," Pennock said. "We tried to focus early to not chase that rise ball. It's amazing how many times it works where they quit throwing it if you don't keep swinging at it. It helps so you can keep your focus in the zone.
"We get to play a lot of good ball. It's why sometimes you come up with eight or nine losses some years and still feel like you're a pretty good team.
Dupo junior Megan Brown has seen limited action in the pitcher's circle this season, but has yet to allow a run to score.
As a freshman, Brown led the team with a 28-5 record and 1.12 ERA in 194 innings pitched. As a sophomore, though, nagging biceps tendonitis kept her out of the pitcher's circle, even as she made her college commitment to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
But with the emergence of Jessica Stansch, who now has won 38 games over the last two seasons, Dupo coach Greg Pennock sees no reason to risk aggravating Brown's condition.
He gave her a taste of state tournament fun in Friday's semifinal win over Elgin St. Edward, though. Brown struck out the game's last batter — the only batter she faced — on three straight pitches.
"Megan is just getting healthy, but who knows?" Pennock said. "What if we get a hard ball off of Jess's knee? You get a little illness and Megan is out there tomorrow. I just wanted to let her feel the mound and get out there. I thought about it in other games, but I don't want it to be a spot where she can fail."
Brown contributes in other ways. She was the BND Player of the Year in 2015 after leading the region with a .596 batting average. She's hitting .348 this season with a team-high four home runs.
"Jessica has done a terrific job so there hasn't been a reason really for me to pitch," she said. "I'm just working into some innings, so if there ever comes a time when Jessica is in a jam and I can help out, I'll be ready to go."
They just don't get a lot of solid hacks on her.
Pennock, on senior pitcher Jessica Stansch
"I'll play my part ... It's really whatever helps my team win at the end of the day."
Pennock referred to Stansch as his “little right-handed John Tudor.” Tudor was a former major league left-handed pitcher who had his best seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was known for not having much velocity on his fastball, but excellent command of his pitches. He was second in Cy Young voting in 1985 when he won 21 games to lead the Cardinals to the National League pennant.
Stansch has been similarly effective this season. She’s struck out 115 batters in 135 innings, but mostly she uses her defense.
A college scout in East Peoria Friday clocked her fastball once at 55 mph, but mostly it was 50 mph or less. Her changeup floated in routinely at 29 to 30 mph. She had St. Edward batters moving up to the front of the batter’s box and, even then, she kept the ball at their knees.
“They just don't get a lot of solid hacks on her,” Pennock said. “They’ll square one up every once in a while and sometimes we get lucky and it goes right to a fielder. We have to remind her sometimes because she’ll get frustrated and throw to the umpire. But she does a great job throwing ground balls and trusting her defense.”
Calhoun's 17-inning triumph set the four-game schedule back two hours Friday. There could be more delays Saturday. The weather forecast for Peoria calls for a 50 percent chance of rain through the early afternoon, when chances dwindle.