Marist won the 2023 IHSA Class 4A softball state championship with a 9-1 victory over Yorkville on June 10 in Peoria. Photo by Randy Whalen
Softball | Marist rolls over Yorkville for second championship in three seasons
By Randy Whalen
Marist left no doubt about which is the best Class 4A team in Illinois.
The RedHawks concluded their torrid run through the IHSA playoffs with a 9-1 win over Yorkville in the state championship game, played June 10 at Louisville Slugger Stadium in Peoria.
It’s the second state title for Marist (37-2) in the past three seasons and the fourth in program history.
Unlike last year, when there were tears of frustration following a 3-2 state championship-game loss to St. Charles North, there were tears of joy this time.
“Yes, this year is a lot different,” senior center fielder Isabel Cunnea said. “This is the last game I will play with them, so I couldn’t stop crying.
“It’s just great. We all love each other so much. This was the ultimate team win. Everyone, every member of this team, contributed to this win.”
The RedHawks broke the game open in the bottom of the fourth when they scored six runs on seven hits and an error to go ahead 9-1.
“It’s awesome, I don’t even have words for it,” said first baseman Eileen Donahue, who was 2-for-4 with two RBI. “I love this team like I love my family. It’s all about the team. Our hitting is contagious. If we get one hit, we get many.”
Morgan Rogers, who sat out last season’s title game with a knee injury, made a diving catch in this year’s contest.
“It’s amazing, I’m very excited for this,” Rogers said. “We just had to keep composed to make it and go out as a winner with this team.”
Senior Payton Benoit had a two-run pinch-hit single to cap the big fourth inning.
“Honestly, I wanted to go up so bad and help the team,” Benoit said. “I was down 0-2 in the count and then it went to 3-2 and I wanted to get a hit.
“It’s so hard to describe being on this team, with this talent. We knew from the first day that we could do it.”
Camryn Lyons, a junior designated player, had two hits.
Yorkville (36-3) was making its first-ever state appearance. The Foxes scored a run in the top of the first inning on a wild pitch, but Marist sophomore right-hander Gianna Hillegonds settled in and blanked the Foxes the rest of the way. Hillegonds allowed the one earned run on four hits, with three walks and two strikeouts.
“I just got all my jitters out, Hillegonds said of the first inning. “After that I said, ‘I think I’ve got it now.’ But I’m not much of a strikeout pitcher and I couldn’t have done it without my defense.
“if you would have told me after eighth grade, two years ago, that I’d be here, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have thought you were crazy. But after the final out, there was just excitement.”
The RedHawks cruised into their third straight Class 4A state championship game by bashing Barrington 10-0 in five innings on June 9.
Hillegonds allowed just one hit while walking one hitter and striking out four.
Cunnea highlighted a five-run fifth inning with a two-run home run, her school record 23rd of the season. Lyons was 3-for-3 with three RBI and Donahue was 2-for-2 with two runs and two RBI on her 18th birthday.
Cunnea, who has more than doubled her long ball total from last season, surpassed Angela Zedak, who hit 22 for the RedHawks in 2019.
Shayne Immke of St. Joseph (Ogden) set the new single-season state record for home runs this year with 25.
“I didn’t think about hitting a home run, not at all,” Cunnea said. “The fences are longer here, so I just wanted to hit the ball hard, hit line drives.”
Her drive went to straightaway center and made it 7-0.
“It was the forbidden topic; we didn’t talk about it,” Marist coach Colleen Biebel said of Cunnea breaking the home run record. “Isabel has just had fun, stayed loose and hit for power. But what she wants more than the home run record is the state title trophy.”
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