1A softball: Shae Simons stellar with 19 strikeouts, but WFC comes up short in regional final

Grant, behind pitcher Cheyenne Hayes, beats Warriors 3-0

Woodland/Flanagan-Cornell's Shae Simons

MELROSE PARK – Shae Simons slowly turned and took a few steps toward left field early Saturday afternoon.

The short distance to her coach carried a lot of emotion with each step.

The Woodland/Flanagan-Cornell senior pitcher had left an illustrious legacy and achieved a historic status at the small co-op program, leading the Warriors to a new level in her memorable four-year varsity career.

Coach Mike Hoekstra saved his final postgame hug for Simons, his celebrated star player, on the palatial outfield turf at Terry Serpico Field.

Grant Park scored two runs in the fourth inning and plated another run in the sixth to pull out a 3-0 victory over WFC in the Class 1A Walther Christian Regional championship game at Ruby Park.

The Warriors’ dream of a regional championship and beyond ended in a tough loss to the Dragons.

After the WFC players and coaches ended in their postgame gathering, Simons was the final player left. She said her postgame hug with Hoekstra was emotional due to their long connection with each other dating back to seventh grade.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done all season and feeling every emotional, just trying to take everything in right now,” Simons said. “You never think it’s your last game until it sets in. I had so many emotions after the game (with Hoekstra). He’s coached us ever since I was in seventh grade. He’s known me and all the seniors for a very long time. It’s hard to step away. It’s hard to leave such a great program.”

Simons, a right-hander, strained late in the game amid the oppressive heat. The umpire gave Simons a short break during a timeout in the top of the sixth inning, allowing Simons to ice herself. The IVCC recruit closed the game with one hit in three plate appearances, while yielding just two hits, walking four and striking out 19 batters in a stellar seven-inning performance.

The Dragons tacked on an insurance run in the top of the sixth inning on Abigail Watson’s bloop single to left field for a 3-0 lead.

“Grant Park is really good and [Cheyenne] Hayes is tough and they were just bloopers we just couldn’t get to,” Simons said. “They definitely deserve the win. They hit more than we did.”

The Dragons scored two runs on a Claire Sluis’ base hit to center field that scored two runs on a fielding error in the top of the fourth inning.

Hoekstra said he was happy his team battled until the final out, but admitted the season-ending loss was tough to digest because of his Simons and her teammates.

“I talked to our seniors last,” Hoekstra said. “They’re all special and I’ve known them all a long time. It’s been a fun ride. I’ve known them all for years. I’m going to miss them.”

Hoekstra said the Warriors struggled to string together hits. Hayes, Grant’s right-handed pitcher, tossed a complete-game two-hitter, finishing with five strikeouts and two walks. Hayes slammed the door shut on every mini-threat by the Warriors, including in the fifth inning when WFC stranded a runner on third base.

“We made a couple of errors that gave them a couple of runs,” Hoekstra said. “They did a good job of taking advantage of them. It’s a great group and they came together really well. We had our ups and downs throughout the season, but they all came together when it mattered. We just couldn’t get Shea much support today.”

Grant Park coach Robert Crivokapich said Hayes pitched a stellar game to limit the Warriors to just two hits.

“She did a really good job,” Crivokapich said. “She was locating everything and hitting her spots. They have a very good lineup and they all hit, but our speed showed and we got timely hits today. The last game we didn’t get timely hits.”

WFC catcher Ella Derossett, who was 0 for 2 with a walk, said the Dragons played stellar in all facets of the game.

“We just didn’t really have it today,” Derossett said. “We have a really good bond. We had a good season. Their pitcher worked it well, inside and outside. We didn’t really see that last time.”

WFC sophomore second baseman Jaylei Leininger, who finished 1 for 3 at the plate, called it a tough loss. She grounded out to Hayes for the final out of the game.

”I was just hoping to get on base,” Leininger said of her last at-bat of the season. “It stinks to be the last out in a big game like this. We knew we had to play hard. We did just that, but they just outdid us. We had a great run again, so it was cool to be here again.”

Hayes said her knowledge of the Warriors’ offense helped her during Saturday’s game. Hayes closed out the game by retiring WFC in order in the bottom of the seventh.

“I knew their hitters more and I knew what I had to do,” she said. “I knew I had to place the ball well. Playing them before really helped me today, just paying attention to the last game and having to play them again so soon. The girls executed perfectly and our players knew their pitcher well, too.”

Simons said Saturday’s game doesn’t deter the stellar season by the Warriors. She noted many fond memories of her career. Simons ended her career with 765 strikeouts, including 261 this season.

“When I was a sophomore, we played in a Serena in a regional championship and beat them,” Simons said. “The last out I got was a strikeout. Last season, we went to sectionals and played at Triton College. I pitched a no-hitter until the seventh inning, but we sadly lost. I’m really hoping that Woodland in the future finally gets a sectional championship. It’s hard to leave a good program.”

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