DARIEN – Monday marked the third time that Benet’s softball program had appeared in a supersectional game.
Unlike the first two times, (losses to heavily favored Lake Park in 2004 and 2005), the Redwings thought that they could hang with nationally ranked Richards at the Class 4A Hinsdale South Supersectional.
They not only hung with Richards. They stunned the Bulldogs, 4-1, and advance to this weekend’s Class 4A state tournament in East Peoria for the first time in program history.
“The two times before on this field we had Lake Park and they were much more heavily favored than we were,” Benet coach Jerry Schilf said. “We were almost glad to be there. That wasn’t the case today. We expected to win.
"We came into this game giving Richards a lot of respect, but we knew if we played our game, we’d win.”
The Redwings (30-10) knew that junior Richards ace Brianna Lebeau was a change-up specialist, and Benet’s Marissa Panko knew it. Panko responded from the No. 8 hole in the lineup with an RBI single in the fourth that plated Julianne Rurka to give Benet a 1-0 lead.
Then in the sixth, she broke a 1-1 tie with an RBI double, this time knocking in her sister, Mikayla. Benet never trailed again.
“We knew she threw a lot of change-ups, so waiting back was the key,” Marissa Panko said. “Her change-up is really good. You know you’re going to get at least one an at-bat. You just have to wait on it and make sure you can foul it off.”
The approach of jumping on change-ups goes against team's offensive approach all season but the Bulldogs figured Lebeau out just enough to get the win.
“I was getting frustrated myself,” Schilf said. “Just hit the first pitch, you know it’s coming. She’s throwing it right down the middle of the plate. But they’re so disciplined to not swing at the change-up.
"To the girl’s credit, she just kept throwing it at us. We happened to hit a couple of them.”
After Marissa Panko’s RBI double in the sixth, Ali Michalik followed with an RBI single and Maeve McGuire (2-for-2, two doubles, two walks) cracked an RBI double to cap the decisive three-run inning.
The offense helped senior pitcher Allyson Staats tie the program record for wins in a season. She improved to 28-9 and escaped danger several times against he dangerous Bulldogs (32-3). She stranded two runners in the first, third and fourth innings and managed to only allow one run on three hits in the sixth to keep the Redwings close.
“That’s been Allyson all year long,” Schilf said. “Even through the tournament, we’ve gotten ourselves in jams early in the game and she gets us out of it. We had more jams today. She seems to be better when the pressure is on.”
The Redwings will play Moline on Friday at 4:30 p.m. at the East Side Centre in East Peoria in the Class 4A state semifinals. New Trier and St. Charles North will follow in the other semifinal at 7 p.m.
“We know we can do it,” Marissa Panko said. “We’re kind of the underdog coming in here. We can do anything we put our minds to. We know we can do this, so we just keep chugging along.”