Softball: Marist returns to state to defend 2021 title
By Randy Whalen
The night before their biggest game of the season, Marist’s players absorbed some superpowers.
From their bats.
“We slept with our bats [the night before],” said junior left fielder Isabel Cunnea. “It was uncomfortable but it got us ready.”
The RedHawks scored all their runs via the longball — five home runs in all, including a pair by Cunnea — en route to an 8-4 win over Lincoln-Way East in the Class 4A Marist Supersectional on June 7.
Defending Class 8A state champion Marist (30-5-1) will face Barrington, a 6-0 winner over Warren at the Barrington Supersectional, at 3 p.m. Friday in a state semifinal at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.
The season is the fourth straight and sixth in seven years — and ninth time in program history — that the RedHawks have reached 30 wins.
The game was postponed a day by rain. That gave the RedHawks a unique way to get their bats ready.
Cunnea’s two homers gave her 10 on the season. Her biggest came in the top of the third. With one out, Sierra Sass doubled and moved to third when fellow senior Emily Bojan’s fly ball to left was adropped for an error.
That brought up Cunnea, whose drive went off the center fielder’s glove and fell over the fence for a three-run home run and a 5-1 lead.
“I knew I had to send it deep,” Cunnea said. “Then I was like, ‘go, go, go,’ and it went over. We were all so psyched for this game. We knew East would bring it and we had to, too. I just had to do whatever I could to support the team.”
The RedHawks had taken a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning. Freshman Breanna Hanik singled with one out, and sophomore Caroline O’Brien obliterated an 0-1 pitch to center field for a two-run home run, her fifth of the year.
“I knew [Griffins senior pitcher Danielle Stewart] would be aggressive and I stayed within myself for my team,” O’Brien said. “It was really big to get the lead. They came back, but we always felt we were in control of the game.”
East (27-3) scored a run in the bottom of the second on McKenzie Gallagher’s one-out RBI single. The Griffins added three runs in the fourth when junior Maddie Hickey (2-for-3, 2 RBIs) hammered a two-run double and Maddie Pomykalski drove in a run on a sacrifice fly.
RedHawks senior pitcher Brooke McNichols settled in after that, retiring 12 of the final 13 batters she faced. That included striking out the side in the seventh inning.
Cunnea creamed a one-out homer to left in the fifth to make it 6-4. In the seventh, senior Kaityln Wright walloped a 1-0 pitch to center for her fourth homer of the season.
“Yes, all nine of us starters slept with our bats and we came out hot,” Wright said. “Our adrenaline was off the charts. Now we are back [to state] and we know we can win it.”
“We were all face-timing [Monday] night and we said, ‘let’s do that.'” Bojan added, regarding sleeping with their bats. “We knew this would be a tough game and we came out ready.”
Bojan bombed her ninth homer of the season to left to cap the scoring.
“As a senior, I’m so happy and it means a lot to go back to state,” she said.
This will be the sixth state trophy that Marist will bring back in the past 10 postseasons. The RedHawks captured 4A state titles in 2012, 2015 and 2021.
“This is what the girls wanted,” Marist coach Colleen Phelan said. “This is a tough group and we’ll be ready to go back and defend our title.”
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