The wind gusts that put a little something extra behind a combined six home runs also blew away Freeburg’s hopes of a class 3A state softball championship.
Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin pounded out 18 hits off three Freeburg pitchers to win the Mattoon Super-Sectional, 13-7, and secure its second straight berth to the IHSA final four.
“We’re looking forward to going back to state and letting the girls have some fun,” said Springfield SH-G coach Al Yoho. “Last year, we finished fourth, but the girls had a good time and got to smell of championship. They are wanting to get more out of it this year.”
The loss spoiled a career day for senior Josie Ledbetter in her Freeburg finale. The Southwestern Illinois College recruit hit two home runs — including a fifth-inning grand slam and the 20th of her career — while driving in six runs.
She also reached over the wooden fence at Mattoon’s Roundhouse Sports Complex to pull back what would have been the Cyclones’ fourth home run on the day.
Both pitchers were victimized by a steady 13 mph wind and frequent gusts that sometimes reached 25 mph.
“The wind was blowing, but in big games you have to make big plays and we didn’t make many great plays today,” said Freeburg head coach Ben Howes. “I don’t want that to take anything away from our season or from our opponent. They came out and beat us today and it’s hats off to them and best of luck.”
Springfield SH-G senior Whitney David was best able to adjust to the conditions. She lasted the full seven innings, allowing seven Freeburg hits, including Ledbetter’s two home runs and another by sophomore catcher Cheyenne Bivins.
I was just telling the girls I’m not sad because we got beat, I’m sad because it’s over The seniors will move on to bigger and better things, but their high school careers are over. They’ve been lucky because they got to postpone that exit that everyone has to face.
Ben Howes, Freeburg head softball coach
David struck out nine and walked four.
“I was talking to Whit and was telling her we didn’t want anybody on base because the next person up was bound to hit it out. It was tough today,” Yoho said. “She got a couple of balls up that hurt her, but she gutted it out and proved what a tough competitor she is. I’m really happy with the job she did today.”
Sophomore Miranda Schulte got the start for Freeburg. She was relieved by Ledbetter in the fifth, returned to the pitcher’s circle in the sixth, then gave way to sophomore Hannah Marquart in the sixth.
Of Sacred Heart-Griffin’s 18 hits off the Freeburg pitchers, seven were for extra bases, including three home runs, three triples and a double.
The Cyclones improved to 32-5 and will face the winner of the Bloomington Super-Sectional in the state semifinal at East Peoria’s Eastside Centre at 12:30 p.m. Friday.
Freeburg finished at 25-6, the Midgets’ best season since they when undefeated and won the state championship in 1985.
“I was just telling the girls I’m not sad because we got beat, I’m sad because it’s over,” Howes said. “The seniors will move on to bigger and better things, but their high school careers are over. They’ve been lucky because they got to postpone that exit that everyone has to face. Unless you win it all you finish with a loss.”
Sacred Heart-Griffin took the lead on a first-inning RBI single by University of Kentucky recruit Renee Abernathy. Freeburg took the run back on Bivens’ solo shot in the bottom half, her fifth of the year.
Bree Derhake hit a two-run home run and catcher Katie Weller singled home another run to put SH-G on top 4-1. It could have been worse had Ledbetter, playing left field, not robbed clean-up hitter Ashton Dyche of a home run.
Makenzie Trees and Lakyn Wagoner, batting nos. 8 and 9, hit back-to-back home runs to lead off the fourth inning and put SH-G up 6-1.
That’s when Schulte, who had a break-out season for the Midgets both as a pitcher and at the plate, started to show her frustration.
I thought the second home run brought some excitement to our bench. It just didn’t happen. Our bats just weren’t on it. The wind helped them for sure, but they just kept hitting.
Josie Ledbetter, Freeburg senior
“She’s an emotional kid and she’s a 16-year-old kid. It’s a big game and, yeah, I was a little bit concerned about her,” Howes said. “But she came back and pitched again and did a great job.”
Ledbetter didn’t have it any easier. She got the two runs back in the bottom of the fourth with a two-run home run. But she was pitching in relief of Schulte in the top of the fifth when Jessica Antonacci and Katie McLean each had two RBI hits to make it 10-3.
Ledbetter’s fifth-inning grand slam made the score 10-7 and looked momentarily like it could turn the momentum in the Midgets’ favor, but the Cyclones bounced back in the sixth with three more. Dyche, Antonacci and Wagoner got the RBIs.
“I thought the second home run brought some excitement to our bench,” Ledbetter said. “It just didn’t happen. Our bats just weren’t on it. The wind helped them for sure, but they just kept hitting.”
Schulte reached base three times for Freeburg – once on a hit and twice on walks – and scored two of the Midgets’ runs. Savanna Stevens had a single; Jenny Homann walked, reached on a fielder’s choice, and scored on Ledbetter’s grand slam; Kimmie Hoffman singled and scored.
For Springfield, McLean tripled twice, scored twice and had two RBIs; Antonacci was 2-3 with a sacrifice fly and three RBIs; Wagoner was 2-3 with a sacrifice bunt and two RBIs.