LISLE – After the first inning of Monday’s Class 3A supersectional at Benedictine University, Benet wanted a mulligan, a chance to do things over.
When the Redwings were indeed given that opportunity, they came up big, scoring three times in the eighth inning to knock off Richards 5-2 and earn a trip downstate Friday to Peoria. It was Benet’s first supersectional win since 2011, when the school also defeated Richards and went on to take third in the state.
Things didn’t start so well on Monday in Lisle as Benet (24-11) misplayed a sacrifice bunt and dropped a fly ball to allow the Bulldogs to jump ahead 2-0 on a pair of unearned runs. But that was all Richards (18-11) would get on this day as Redwings starter Alex O’Rourke tossed seven scoreless innings from there, including a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth to secure the Benet’s state final berth.
“We kind of had to tell each other we’re starting over. After that first inning we tried to say this is the beginning, we’re starting over,” said Benet’s Angela Hurejs, who doubled home Nina Pesare with what proved to be the winning run in the eighth. “From there we really picked each other up and it really got better from there.”
After that 2-0 hole, the Redwings picked up their defense and little by little put together better at-bats against Bulldogs pitcher Emily Chavosky, who struck out six and didn’t allow a hit through three frames. In the fourth, the Redwings drew even as Taylor Sconza reached on an infield single, Bridget Chapman had a double and Gianna Horejs delivered a clutch, two-out double off the glove of Bulldogs center fielder Natalie Hajer, who almost made a spectacular diving catch.
With new life, O’Rourke seemed to get stronger as the game went on and the score remained tied heading to extra innings. The Benet pitcher allowed just two unearned runs in eight innings, limiting Richards to three hits while striking out five and walking none.
“The thing that we did best today was to believe in ourselves,” O’Rourke said. “Benet softball was not supposed to be here ... but we’ve worked our butts off. 2-0 is nothing ... we won today because of hard work. Today Benet softball was not gonna go home. I knew I could trust my stuff and my defense. We are resilient. I knew I wanted to go downstate. This team wanted to go downstate.”
With the score even at 2-2, the Redwings opened the top of the eighth with the leadoff spot, so it was almost as if a new contest was starting with Pesare stepping in the batter’s box. On the first pitch she lined a single to center. Sconza popped out on a sacrifice bunt attempt, but the speedy Pesare still managed to take off for second base when she saw an opening.
Her heads-up, daredevil baserunning fired up the Redwings dugout and when Angela Horejs and Chapman followed with doubles, it was a 4-2 Benet lead that eventually grew to 5-2 on a single by Gianna Horejs.
“She just bunted. I got back and I saw second base open and I knew I could get there. I knew we needed that run,” Pesare said. “It was a great feeling and you could see the energy in the dugout. It’s awesome. We’re so excited.”
Veteran Richards coach Julie Folliard, who was on the wrong end of the outcome the last time these two programs met in a supersectional, had nothing but praise for both teams.
“It was a great day for high school softball, showing the athleticism of high school athletes. My goodness what great plays we saw today,” Folliard said. “Of course there’s heartbreak, but I’ll tell ya, we’re very proud of how they played today and how they came together. We peaked at the right time, which is what you want to do.”
Benet will take on Lemont at 10 a.m. Friday in the first Class 3A semifinal, with Antioch and Charleston following at 12:30 p.m. The state championship is slated for 11:30 a.m. Saturday following the third-place game.