PEORIA – Sage Mardjetko stood a few feet away from two Lemont teammates proudly lifting a second-place state trophy, soldiering a smile through her tears.
Hers was a championship performance missing only the matching hardware.
Mardjetko, Lemont’s sophomore pitcher, was sensational one more time on a steamy Thursday afternoon. She struck out 11 batters, matching unbeaten Highland senior Samantha Miener zero-for-zero for six innings.
Highland finally broke through in the bottom of the seventh with Miener’s leadoff double setting the stage for Maddie Trauernicht’s game-winning sacrifice fly.
But Mardjetko’s effort in a 1-0 loss in the Class 3A state championship game was a memorable ending to quite a debut high school softball season.
“It’s fun. It just stinks that we lost,” said Mardjetko, who allowed only two hits and walked none. “It’s crazy how close it was. I knew it was going to be a close game, and a good game. I just wish it would have ended differently.”
Indeed, both pitchers lived up to their statistical success this spring.
Mardjetko (16-2) had allowed only four earned runs coming in, with 247 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings and three straight playoff shutouts. Miener (25-0), an Austin Peay recruit, had allowed only five earned runs coming into Thursday with 211 strikeouts in 167 innings.
Miener struck out five, although Mardjetko was even more dominant. Miener’s softly hit single in the second and two Lemont errors were her only blemishes through six innings.
With an effective screwball and disappearing changeup, Mardjetko retired nine straight batters after Highland (25-1) put two on base in the second.
“She had extremely good movement, she kept it on the corners of the plate, off the plate, she was keeping us off balance with the off-speed,” Miener said. “She is an amazing pitcher. She’s going to be really good.”
Miener, however, finally made solid contact to start the bottom of the seventh, drilling a double that scooted on the turf to the fence in left-center.
The next batter was unsuccessful in getting down a bunt, but Highland courtesy runner Alicia Pitkin boldly took third on a delayed steal.
“It was one of those things where we were probably focused on whether the batter swung, and they were looking for the ball in play,” Lemont coach Chris Traina said. “The girl did an outstanding job on it.”
Pitkin scored ahead of the throw on Trauernicht’s solidly hit fly ball to medium center.
Lemont (28-5), making its fourth state tournament appearance – the first since 1989 – matched the 1988 Class A runners-up for the best finish in program history.
“Anybody who loses a game like that, it’s hard on them, but our team has to keep their heads held high,” Traina said. “Second in the state is nothing to be ashamed of. It was a great pitcher battle. We put the ball in play, two good pitchers. I’m just proud of my team. They’ve been great all season.”
The Indians made contact throughout on Miener but managed only three base runners. Frankie Rita reached on a two-out error in the first inning, and Raegan Duncan singled for the game’s first hit in the second.
Allison Pawlowicz beat out an infield hit leading off the fifth, but on Duncan’s ensuing sacrifice, Pawlowicz was thrown out at second rounding the base, Lemont’s last base runner.
“We knew it was going to be a really tough game, literally a battle down to the last pitch,” Miener said. “We knew [Mardjetko] would be a really tough pitcher.”
And there’s more to come, with Mardjetko one of several Lemont players back next spring.
Mardjetko and starting catcher and No. 3 hitter Rita are both sophomores, and Lemont started three freshmen Thursday in Pawlowicz, Duncan and Avaree Taylor, who homered in the semifinal win over Ridgewood.
“It’s going to push me to be better next year,” Mardjetko said. “Hopefully we’ll be right back here next year with a different trophy.”
Lemont’s seniors, meanwhile, set the bar high with quite a three-season run over four years.
The Indians in 2018 won the program’s first sectional title since 1989, and did it again in 2019, and broke through to state this spring after the 2020 season was canceled. Senior third baseman Lily Schuit, called up as a freshman, relished being part of it. She singled and reached base twice in the semifinal win Thursday.
“This was like an out-of-body experience,” Schuit said. “It’s nice to come back and beat that 32-year [state] drought. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but still really cool and awesome to be a part of.”
I am the Sports Editor for Kendall County Newspapers, the Kane County Chronicle and Suburban Life Media, covering primarily sports in Kendall, Kane, DuPage and western Cook counties. I've been covering high school sports for 24 years. I also assist with our news coverage.