Softball Notebook: Minooka bucking tradition with hot start

Minooka’s Gracie Anderson is greeted at home plate following her solo home run against Oswego on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Minooka.

Minooka’s softball program has a strong history in the past decade or so, winning a Class 4A state title in 2013 and finishing fourth in 2021.

On both occasions, the team scuffled through the early portion of the season, then got hot at the end.

In 2013, the Indians opened the playoffs with a 16-8 record and the ninth seed in the Lincoln-Way East Sectional. They went on to win seven straight in the postseason and claim the state title. In 2021, they were the sixth seed in an eight-team sub-sectional with an 11-13 record. Once again, they got hot, winning five straight games to reach the state finals before losing their final two and finishing 16-15.

This year’s edition is different.

Minooka won its 11th straight game Thursday, an 11-2 decision over West Aurora, and improved to 12-1-1. In the most current rankings released by the Illinois Coaches Association, they are ranked No. 5 in the state in Class 4A. They already have avenged their only loss of the season to Lincoln-Way West when they beat the Warriors in the WJOL Tournament semifinals before beating Joliet West to win the tournament for the first time.

If the pattern for coach Mark Brown’s teams to play better at the end of the year holds true, that could be bad news for the rest of the teams in the state.

“Both times we have gone to state, we were kind of average for most of the season, then got hot at the end,” Brown said. “Right now, the girls are doing everything right. We are hitting up and down the lineup. This lineup is relentless. We are having quality at-bat after quality at-bat, no matter what spot in the order is up.

“Sometimes, I think about moving some people up or down in the order depending on who is hot, but the way things are going now, if it isn’t broken, why fix it?”

State powers

Minooka is not the only area team to be ranked by the ICA. In Class 4A, Lincoln-Way Central currently holds the No. 2 spot behind Marist, while Lincoln-Way East is ranked No. 7. Lockport is ranked 13th, Lincoln-Way West is 22nd and Joliet West is 24th.

Lincoln-Way Central’s Lisabelle Dimitrijevic delivers a pitch against Lincoln-Way West in the Class 4A Lockport Sectional semifinal on Wednesday, May 30, 2023, in Lockport.

In Class 3A, two-time defending state champion Lemont is doing just fine without two-time Herald-News Player of the Year Sage Mardjetko, as they hold the No. 8 ranking by the ICA. In Class 2A, Joliet Catholic Academy is ranked No. 5, Coal City is No. 8, Seneca is No. 13 and Reed-Custer 22nd. Don’t be surprised to see Wilmington make an appearance soon after the Wildcats beat Coal City on Monday and Thursday. In Class 1A, Dwight is ranked No. 16.

Sister act

Coal City’s season has been powered in part by twin sisters Makayla and Makenzie Henline. Makayla plays shortstop and leads off for the Coalers, while Mackenzie plays second base and hits second. Makayla is hitting a team-leading .500, with Makenzie hitting at a .449 clip.

Hotter than fire

There are hot starts, and then there is what Molly Southall has done.

The Wilmington sophomore currently sports an .833 batting average (25 for 30) through 11 games. Southall is not the type of hitter to lay down a bunt and beat it out. She is a slugger who already has three doubles, three triples, eight home runs and 25 RBIs.

Minooka’s Gracie Anderson also is riding a hot streak to start the season, hitting .559 with five homers, while Morris freshman Cami Pfeifer is hitting .511 and Joliet Central’s Natalie Reyes is hitting .500.