PEORIA – Huntley’s long march to the Class 4A state tournament didn’t result in back-to-back state championships, but the Red Raiders did get the next best thing: a win on the last day of the season.
The Raiders held off Minooka, 4-3, in the Class 4A third-place game Thursday at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex behind 18 strikeouts from senior ace Briana Bower as Huntley finished the season with a team-best 35-7 record – an identical mark to the one the Raiders had when they won the 2019 state title.
Earlier in the day, Huntley lost to eventual state champion Marist, 1-0, in the semifinals. Marist beat Lincoln-Way Central, 3-1, to win its third state championship in program history.
[ Read more: Huntley no-hit by Marist’s Abby Dunning in Class 4A state semifinals, will play for 3rd place ]
A year after no season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Raiders, who are 102-20 since the start of 2018, rarely gave themselves a day off in 2021, crunching 35 regular-season games into a condensed summer schedule.
After a 3-5 start to the season, the Raiders had won 31 of 32 games going into the state tournament, which included a 7-0 stretch when they were missing 10 players because of a COVID-19 quarantine.
“This was a very fun season,” Huntley coach Mark Petryniec said. “These girls made every day a joy. It never felt one ounce like work. It was a roller-coaster year, and everything that was thrown at these girls, they overcame it. To finish third in the state is quite an accomplishment.”
Bower, who will play at Mississippi State next year, finished her career with 922 strikeouts – and who knows how many more she would have had with another full season under her belt. Bower racked up 460 strikeouts this season, the ninth most in a season in state history, according to IHSA.org.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better ending, a win on the last day,” said Bower, who went 31-6 as a senior. “Everybody is tired, it’s been a real long day, and everyone just gave it their all today. I’m just super proud of everybody.”
Bower allowed a two-run homer to Minooka’s Chloe Kohnhorst in the bottom of the seventh, cutting Huntley’s lead to 4-3, but retired the next three batters on strikeouts. Senior catcher Lindsay Morgan ran out and hugged Bower as the rest of the infield, outfield and bench came in to celebrate in front of the pitcher’s circle.
[ Photos: Huntley, Minooka battle for third at state ]
Bower scattered seven hits and walked two. Only two of the three runs were earned.
“Just take a deep breath,” Bower said of the tense seventh inning. “I know I missed my spot, and she just took it, but I knew we had three more outs to get. I just kicked it into another gear and just ended it there. I really wanted to do it for my team. Everybody here has been supportive of me.”
Huntley got a run in the top of the seventh on an RBI double by Reese Hunkins, scoring pinch-runner Sara Rysavy from first. That run proved to be crucial.
Minooka (16-15) has made a habit of coming back this postseason.
“Our playoff run, six of the seven games, we were down and came back,” Minooka coach Mark Brown said. “These were the games we were normally winning. Nobody really gave us a chance coming into the season, nobody gave us a chance in the regionals or today, but they came out, fought and showed their toughness.”
Bower gave Huntley a 1-0 lead in the first with her 13th homer of the year, a shot that went far over the left-field fence and just to the right of the scoreboard.
The Raiders took a 3-0 lead in the fifth, with the first run scoring by Madi Smith in a rundown and the second on a single by Reese Hunkins to score Katie Mitchell. Smith was pinch-running for senior Zoe Butow, who laced a pinch-hit double over the left fielder’s head to start the inning.
Minooka scored a run in the fifth on a throwing error, allowing Anna McClimon, who tripled, to score.
Clara Hudgens was 3 for 3 for the Raiders and had a sliding catch in center field in the third that saved at least one run from scoring. McClimon had two hits and two runs scored for Minooka, and Allie Timm added a double and gave up three runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings with four strikeouts and three walks.
The Raiders won their sixth straight regional title, second straight sectional title and went unbeaten (18-0) in the Fox Valley Conference for their fourth conference title in the past five seasons.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Reicher, one of six players who was on the 2019 state champions (Bower, Morgan, Abby Simandl, Hunkins and Jori Heard). “You go [to state] once and you don’t think it’s ever going to happen again. It’s just so difficult to do. We had to beat Barrington [a 6-5 sectional final win in 11 innings], which is a very difficult thing to do.
“I started crying after. The past four years have been so much fun. It’s such a family here. We have a group chat where we joke around. I’ve done hitting lessons with [assistant coach Matt Langton], and Coach P, they both grew me so much as a player and so much as a person.”
Morgan, who tore a ligament in her thumb that forced her to miss a big part of the season, reinjured her thumb in the semifinal against Marist but played through the pain.
“I just had to play through it because obviously, this is my last day playing high school,” Morgan said. “This program has meant so much to me. ... Without it, I don’t think that I’d be the person I am today. They always push me to be the best person I am, the best athlete I am.
“It means so much to not only the people on the team this year, but for the people who did not get to play last year. All the alumni were here today, which really means a lot to us. They still support us, and I know the seniors this year are going to come back and support them, too.”