2A softball: Seneca scores 6-0 victory, captures own regional title

Tessa Krull’s shutout, Hayden Pfeifer’s 2 homers lead Fighting Irish

The Seneca Fighting Irish softball team poses with its freshly won Class 2A regional championship plaque Friday, May 17, 2024, in Seneca.

SENECA – The Seneca batting order and ace pitcher Tessa Krull were never really threatened with an upset Friday during the championship game of the Class 2A Seneca Regional, leading from the opening inning right through the final one.

The top-seeded Fighting Irish did not, however, have an easy time dismissing scrappy Lexington/Ridgeview.

But dismiss the Minutemen is what Seneca slowly, inevitably did, scoring five runs late to finally put away a 6-0 victory, the eighth regional title in Fighting Irish softball history and the sixth regional plaque to go in the trophy case since 2011.

Krull struck out 16 in the three-hit shutout, Hayden Pfeifer blasted two solo home runs in the fifth and sixth innings, Lexie Buis and Alyssa Zellers also provided two hits apiece, and No. 3 hitter Camryn Stecken notched two RBIs – including the game-winner on a first-inning sacrifice fly, scoring Zellers – to carry the Irish (32-3) into next Tuesday’s 2A Herscher Sectional semifinal against old conference rival Coal City.

Hayden Pfeifer

“Yeah, we had to scrap it out,” Seneca coach Brian Holman said, “but these [postseason games] are always like that. It doesn’t matter who you play, and [Lexington/Ridgeview] was good. They’re well-coached. I know they’re small schools, but they brought everybody with them, and they just fought and played the game the way they had to play.

“We were just lucky to get a few good swings and get some momentum.”

Stecken’s good swing on an offering from Minutemen crafty righty Belle Payne with Zellers on third base in the first inning opened the scoring, but proved to be the only run the Irish could manage against Payne (6 IP, 6 ER, 9 H, 0 BB, 4 K) until adding some insurance with a four-run fifth.

Seneca’s four-run fifth started with Pfeifer’s first home run, a line-drive shot to right-center that made it 2-0. The Irish then added three more runs on five consecutive hits off the bats of No. 9 hitter Sam Vandevelde, Zellers (RBI), Emma Mino (RBI), Stecken (RBI) and Buis.

Camryn Stecken

”We came in here knowing we had to do well right from the start, and we got one run in the first inning,” Stecken said. “That helped us, but then it took a little while. [Payne] started working some pitches in different spots, but eventually we ended up getting the runs we needed.

“We just got in there and adjusted.”

Pfeifer added her second solo shot with two outs in the sixth, a fly ball over the fence in right. All in all, though, it was a solid showing from Payne against the high-powered, dangerous one-through-nine – Pfeifer, incidentally, is Seneca’s No. 7 hitter – Irish lineup.

“If you would have told me we were going to give up six runs today, I would’ve taken that, right?” Lexington/Minutemen coach Jeff Doll said. “Their pitcher just had a day, had our number.

“But I couldn’t be prouder of our pitcher, our catcher and our defense ... and we fought hard til the end. But when you’re down six, it’s tough.”

That pitcher, all-state candidate Krull, turned in another in what is becoming a long series of gems. Seneca’s sophomore right-hander allowed just three hits – all singles scattered across three different innings – and walked just one against her 16 strikeouts.

Only two Minutemen (17-16) baserunners got as far as second base, none to third.

“I felt in control with all my pitches, and I felt I could control the batter with anything I was throwing,” Krull said. “And I also felt confident that my team was going to be behind me and make the plays, even when there were runners on base. ...

“This feels great. I love this season.”

Tessa Krull
J.T. Pedelty

J.T. Pedelty

J.T. is a graduate of Streator High School, Illinois Valley Community College and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale who is some 25 years into an award-winning sports journalism career.