PEORIA — Lindsey Grein made sure that there was no letdown for Lincoln-Way Central.
The junior right-hander fired a one-hit shutout and had three RBIs as the Knights blanked Minooka, 4-0, in a Class 4A state semifinal Thursday afternoon at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.
“She’s special,” Lincoln-Way Central coach Jeff Tarala said. “On the mound, in the box, she can do it all. It’s a team effort to get here, but Lindsey gets more composed and stronger as the game goes on.”
The Indians’ only hit was a one-out single up the middle in the first by sophomore second baseman Chloe Kohnhorst. But a double play ended the inning.
With the game still scoreless, Minooka senior third baseman Abbi Davis walked to lead off the bottom of the third. Senior shortstop Kaylee King and freshman center fielder Sofia Dziuba followed with sacrifice bunts to move Davis to third. But she was stranded there as Grein got a strikeout to end the inning.
It was the first of seven strikeouts in the last 4 1/3 innings for Grein.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Grein said of reaching the state championship game. “When you have a great catcher like Bella (senior Isabella Wilkerson), it makes it a lot easier. She calls the best pitches.
The Indians, who entered their half of the subsectional bracket seeded No. 6 out of eight teams, made a great run to bring home their second state trophy. Minooka won the Class 4A title in 2013.
“That’s a heck of a team and she’s tough, she’s as advertised,” Minooka coach Mark Brown said of Grein. “But we battled. (In the third) we had our two best bunters up. We wanted to put some pressure on them, but Lindsey did the job for them (with the strikeout).”
The Knights nearly scored a run in the second. With the bases empty and two outs, senior right fielder Grace Kmak doubled down the left line. Senior designated player Grace Erickson (1 for 3) then lined a single to lef,t and Tarala never hesitated in waving Kmak. But a great throw from senior left fielder Maddie Belluomini to junior catcher Megan Medlin nailed the runner at the plate.
“It’s just the situations in games,” Tarala said of being aggressive. “It’s easier to make that decision when you have a pitcher as good as Lindsey.”
Tarala knew all too well not to take the Indians lightly. In 2018, his team was the No. 1 seed in the Joliet West Sectional but lost, 3-2, to No. 8 seed Minooka in a Class 4A regional title game. The Indians went on to win the sectional before losing, 3-0, to eventual state champion Rock Island at the Illinois State University Supersectional.
“Minooka is a great playoff team,” Tarala said. “They are always ready at this time of year.”
The Indians were again this season.
“We battled,” said Brown, whose team was 2-7 and 5-10 earlier this season. “We got out of some jams and gave one of the best teams in the state a run for their money. I’m proud of this squad. Our name is back out there among the elite team in the state.”
Lincoln-Way Central scored in the fifth. With one out, junior second baseman Jamie Widule (2-for-3, 2 runs) singled past short and scored without a play when Grein lined a first-pitch double to left. With two outs and none on in the sixth, senior left fielder Kathryn Ponton blooped a single to right, stole second on a bloop single to left from Kmak (2 for 3, two doubles).
“It’s great, and the first time in a while that we’ve been to state,” Kmak said. “Lindsey is great, and it’s awesome to have her. We know she’s going to bring her best every time and we can count on her.
“It means a lot to get to the finals in my senior season.”
Grein, who was 2 for 3 with a walk in the game, capped the scoring in the seventh. Widule led off the inning with a single. After working the count full, Grein ripped a line shot to straightaway center for a two-run homer. It was the 11th home run of the season for Grein, tying her with senior third baseman Carly Alvers for team-high honors.
“I just had a caveman mentality,” Grein said of her homer. “I was just thinking, swing, hit, ball, go.”
Her homer knocked out Minooka’s starting pitcher, senior right-hander Allie Timm. Alvers also had a single and reached on the Indians’ only error in the fourth.
After retiring 10 in a row, Grein walked Kohnhorst to lead off the seventh. But she once again got a ground ball double play and fittingly ended the game with a strikeout.