Softball: Rock Falls can’t keep up with defending champ Rockridge

Rock Falls takes early lead, but Rockridge answers in big way in 2A East Peoria Supersectional

Rock Falls’ Zoe Morgan makes the catch at third for an out against North Boone Monday, April 3, 2023.

EAST PEORIA – Things started off as well as Rock Falls could’ve hoped Monday morning at the Class 2A East Peoria Supersectional.

The Rockets scored in the top of the first inning to take a 1-0 lead on 2A powerhouse Rockridge.

But Rockridge used its extensive postseason experience to regain momentum right away in the bottom of the inning, and rode that to a 14-2, five-inning victory at EastSide Centre.

“We played incredible today,” junior pitcher Kendra Lewis said. “We’ve been working really hard; there’s no off days for this team. Yesterday was a Sunday, and I know a lot of these girls had practice on their own, and that’s props to everybody. Our offense really showed today.”

Rockridge advances to the state tournament for the fifth straight season, and improved its record in the last three years to 100-1; the only loss was earlier this year to Ottawa, a Class 3A school. The Rockets have won the last two 2A state titles, and have three championships and a third-place finish in the last four state tournaments.

Rock Falls (29-6) saw an end to the best season the softball program has had in a decade, winning conference, regional and sectional titles in making its first trip to the Elie Eight since a Final Four berth in 2004.

“We’ve had a great season. It’s tough to lose this game, but this run was definitely worth it,” senior third baseman Zoe Morgan said.

Things started quickly for Rock Falls. Katie Thatcher singled with two outs, then stole second. Morgan followed with a double into the gap in right-center field to drive in Thatcher, and Rock Falls led 1-0.

“We were super excited. We knew coming into this game it was going to be a tough one, so definitely to score first was a big boost,” Thatcher said.

“We were very hyped,” Morgan added. “All I was thinking was that I needed to score Katie, and I just put the ball in play and it found the gap and she scored. Unfortunately, it didn’t end up being our game today.”

Rock Falls pitcher Katie Thatcher releases a pitch during the Class 2A Stillman Valley Sectional championship game against Marengo on Friday.

Rockridge (36-1) had the answer. Kendra Lewis and Kori Needham both singled with one out, then after Thatcher induced a soft lineout, Cierra Bush hit a low liner toward second base. It looked like Patty Teague was going to catch it on the fly, but it hit the dirt as she approached it and skipped under her glove into right field.

Courtesy runner Stella Riley came around to score, and Needham advanced to third; she scored on Mikaylin Hofer’s single four pitches later for a 2-1 lead.

“It was big to get those runs right away. It really got the momentum going, and it was really awesome that we got our approaches down early,” Hofer said.

“One thing in our offense, we come in and our coaches just say, ‘Win the inning,’ and that’s what we strive for every single time,” Lewis said. “They scored first, so we wanted to get it right back.”

Lewis then worked a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the second, and Rockridge came back up to the plate and inflicted some major damage, scoring six runs in the bottom of the inning to take control.

Thatcher struck out the first two hitters of that inning, but a wild pitch in strike three allowed Morgan Hofer to reach base with one out. Payton Brown beat out a bunt single, then Lewis jacked a three-run home run to left-center for a 5-1 lead.

After a comebacker for the second out, Taylor Dietrich drew a walk, stole second, and scored on Bush’s single. Mikaylin Hofer doubled down the left-field line to put runners on second and third, and Daytona Downing drove them both in with an opposite-field single down the right-field line for an 8-1 Rockridge lead.

“Our hitting, 1 through 9, and even some girls on the bench, they’re outstanding hitters, and it just flows through our whole entire offense,” Lewis said. “As soon as one person gets a hit, you can’t stop us.”

Rock Falls picked up a run in the top of the third. Olivia Osborne led off with a bloop single to right, then went to second on Savanna Fritz’s single to right. Osborne then took third on a passed ball, and Thatcher’s groundout to the first baseman drove in Osborne to make it 8-2.

Rock Falls batter Olivia Osborne is thrown out by a step at first as Richmond Burton's Norah Spittler makes the play during Tuesday's sectional semifinal in Davis Junction.

But Rockridge closed the door in the bottom of the inning with four more runs to take a 12-2 lead. Brown singled with one out and scored on Lewis’ double off the bottom of the fence down the left-field line, then Needham was hit by a pitch and Dietrich singled to center to load the bases.

Bush drove in a run on a groundout to third, then Mikaylin Hofer struck again, blasting a two-out, two-run double into the gap in left-center.

“Hitting is definitely contagious, and it definitely was today,” Hofer said. “I was not expecting us to do all that on offense. It was awesome, though.”

Teague walked to lead off the fourth, but after a foulout down the right-field line, Lewis turned a comebacker into a double play to end that inning.

Estellah Bognar led off the bottom of the inning with a solo home run to right, then Lewis hit her second homer of the game with a solo shot just to the left of center field with two outs to make it 14-2.

Osborne drew a walk and Brooke Howard was hit by a pitch with one out in the top of the fifth, but shortstop Brown fielded a Fritz grounder, tagged Osborne on the way by, and threw to first to turn the second double play in as many innings to end it.

“The bottom of the first inning, really, having a two-out error sort of set the tone for the rest of the game and having them score those runs. We should’ve come back from that, but we never did,” Thatcher said. “But I’m glad of the team that we had this year. It was a great year, and I’m proud of everyone.”

Lewis was 4 for 4 with a double, two home runs and five RBIs at the plate, and she allowed two runs and four hits in the circle, striking out three, walking two and hitting a batter.

Mikaylin Hofer was 3 for 3 with two doubles and three RBIs for Rockridge, and Brown went 2 for 4 and scored twice. Bush and Downing each drove in two runs, Bognar added the solo homer, and Needham and Dietrich each scored twice. Eight different players had hits, five finished with RBIs, and eight of the nine spots in the order scored at least once for Rockridge.

Thatcher struck out five, walked one and hit a batter in a complete game, allowing 12 earned runs and 14 hits.

“We had a great year. Obviously having seven seniors, having experience from last year, we knew what we were going to have this year, and we knew we were going to be good,” said Thatcher, who will play at Louisville next year. “But still, just to make it this far, I don’t think we ever knew we’d be here. I’m really proud of the team for doing everything we did this year, and good luck next year to the girls. I’ll always support our girls in everything; I’ll miss these guys a ton.”

While the finality of this loss stings right now, Morgan said the good times are what she’s going to remember most when she looks back on this special season.

“Definitely our friendship in the team that led us to the regional and sectional championships, that was the best part,” she said. “We made it this far because of how close we all are. It felt great to win the regional and sectional, and it was very exciting to be part of this team this season.”

Have a Question about this article?
Ty Reynolds

Ty Reynolds

Ty is the Sports Editor at Sauk Valley Media, and has covered sports in the Sauk Valley for more than two decades.