In a spring filled with so much craziness, was there any doubt that it would have a wacky ending?
Bad weather persisted all spring, changing schedules on a daily – and sometimes hourly – basis, and there were many, many games and meets featuring high scores and down-to-the-wire finishes, making this one of the most memorable spring seasons in my 22 years on the job.
And the past two weeks have been the perfect capper to everything.
Let’s start with the Forreston softball team, the last squad left standing this spring in the Sauk Valley area. You’ve heard of never-say-die teams before, but the Cardinals are taking things to a whole new level during their run to the Class 1A state finals this weekend.
In each of the past three games – over a six-day span, no less – Forreston has come through in the clutch with walk-off wins, and the winning hits have come from three different players.
In the sectional semifinal against Pearl City on May 24, Brooke Boettner’s solo home run in the bottom of the seventh tied the game and forced extra innings, then Rylee Broshous hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 12th to win it.
Four days later, trailing 7-5 going into the bottom of the seventh inning in the sectional final against Dakota, the Cardinals scored three runs to win it, with the last two coming on Breanna Kloster’s two-run single to walk it off.
In Monday’s supersectional in Sterling, they were up to their old tricks again. Down 5-3 going into the bottom of the seventh, Brooke Boettner again tied the score, this time with a two-run homer, before Ella Ingram smacked a solo shot with two outs to send the Cardinals to state. They’ll face Casey-Westfield in a semifinal at 12:30 p.m. Friday.
Now I don’t know what the odds are of a team winning three straight walk-off games in the postseason, let alone with three different players having the hits, but I’d say the Forreston faithful might think about buying lottery tickets.
That first walk-off win May 24 was part of a wild day of softball postseason games. All four sectional semifinals involving local teams that day were decided by one run, and three of them were walk-off wins.
Like Forreston, West Central won a 1A sectional semifinal in extra innings, scoring in the bottom of the eighth inning to top Newman, 1-0. In Class 2A, Erie-Prophetstown defeated Brimfield, 2-1, with a run in the bottom of the eighth, and Richmond-Burton got a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth to top Oregon, 2-1.
Win or lose, those games showed the parity in small-school softball this season among the final 32 teams still playing in 1A and 2A.
There also were some other numbers and achievements to celebrate on the diamond this spring:
• The Dixon baseball team won Big Northern Conference and Class 3A regional titles for the third straight season, and finished 24-3 – the Dukes’ third 20-win season in the past five years during which a season was held. They are 41-6 the past two springs and have amassed a 105-28 record the past five seasons, finishing 21-8 in 2017, 18-8 in 2018, 26-6 in 2019 and 17-3 in 2021.
• The Sterling softball team notched its 10th straight regional title, and 12th in the past 14 years – and did it in dramatic fashion. Elizabeth Palumbo’s walk-off RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh sent the Golden Warriors to a 7-6 win over a spunky Dixon squad in the regional final.
• Speaking of those Duchesses, they matched the school record for wins in a season with 18 this spring, tying the 1998 team – which current head coach Candi Rogers was a part of. Dixon also made the first appearance in a regional final in program history after a 9-3 win over Rochelle in the 3A regional semifinals.
• Newman baseball put on an offensive show in the 1A sectional in Lena last week, scoring 27 runs over two games to earn its second straight trip to the Elite 8. Both victories came over 20-win teams – 15-2 over Lena-Winslow and 12-5 over Warren-Stockton – and the semifinal win over the host Panthers gave the Comets 25 runs in two games this season against Le-Win.
• The Newman softball team also continued its recent run of success, notching the program’s sixth regional title in the last seven seasons; six of the Comets’ seven regional titles have come in the last seven years.
I’d also like to recognize the stellar postseason performances in a couple of other sports.
The Sauk Valley had three state champions crowned in track and field this spring, as Sterling’s Alice Sotelo won the Class 2A triple jump title and Oregon’s Jenae Bothe took the 1A shot put championship at the girls state meet May 21, and Rock Falls’ Matthew Marcum won the 2A 300 hurdles title at the boys state meet on May 28.
Bothe graduates as the Hawks’ record-holder in both the shot put and discus, while Sotelo broke the Golden Warriors’ triple jump record four times in the final month of the season. Marcum clocked his two fastest times of the season in the state prelims and finals last weekend.
And in boys tennis, a pair of area entrants won three matches at the 1A state meet. Sectional doubles champions Luke Healy and Owen Grot won their opening match and finished 3-2 at state, and Sterling singles player Brecken Peterson also went 3-2, including a gut-wrenching three-set defeat in his opener, where he lost, 12-10, in that third-set tiebreaker.
Those efforts were even more impressive when you consider that because weather forced everything indoors on Day 1, each entrant played only one match that day – meaning the Dukes duo and Peterson played four matches on Day 2.
So here’s to a wild and wacky spring season that somehow managed to save its best for last. And kudos to all the area athletes who endured – and excelled – through everything that was thrown at them.