ORLAND PARK – The IHSA doesn’t give out an official Most Valuable Player award for postseason tournaments.
Unofficially, however, the Class 4A Sandburg Softball Sectional should have been called the Danielle Stewart Invitational.
Stewart, a senior pitcher and a key cog in the potent Lincoln-Way East offense, made her presence felt early at the plate, and shut out Lincoln-Way Central – last season’s Class 4A state runner-up – on two hits Friday to lead the Griffins to a 3-0 win. Lincoln-Way East advances to the Marist Supersectional on Monday, where they will take on the host school, which beat Lyons Township, 1-0, on Friday. On Tuesday, Stewart threw a one-hitter and had one of the Griffins’ two RBIs in a 2-0 win over Shepard in the sectional semifinal
Stewart drove in the first two runs for East (27-2). In the bottom of the first, Chloe Geijer (2 for 3) singled, but was thrown out at third on a double to left-center by Katie Stewart. Danielle Stewart then poked a single to right off Lincoln-Way Central pitcher Lyndsey Grein to bring home her sister for a 1-0 Griffins lead. Grein held the Griffins scoreless from there until the bottom of the fourth, when Danielle Stewart led off the inning with a home run to right.
“On my first at-bat, I just wanted to put the ball in play,” Danielle Stewart said. “Me and Lyndsey [Grein] have a great competition between us. She’s a great pitcher, and I was able to get my bat on it and drive my sister in.
“On the home run, I saw a pitch coming outside and went and got it. She jammed me inside on the pitch before, so I figured she would go outside the next time and she did. I was thinking like a pitcher. There are pros and cons to that, but it worked out that time.”
Later in the same inning, the Griffins scored their final run on a back-to-back doubles by Maddy Hickey and Maddie Pomykalski. It was a big hit for Pomykalski, who was playing in only her third game since returning from a broken hand suffered in late April.
“I heard their catcher move behind me, so I was looking for a pitch inside,” Pomykalski said. “I hit a home run in my first at-bat back from the injury, but I think the double today was bigger. This was a game where every run mattered and to drive one in felt great.
“We are excited to win the sectional, since we lost this game to this team last year. Now we want to keep winning a few more.”
Armed with the lead, Stewart mowed through the Lincoln-Way Central lineup, finishing with eight strikeouts and no walks. The closest the Knights got to scoring was in the first inning, when Grein led off with a single, was bunted to second by Kayley Kmak and went to third on a grounder to short by Jamie Widule. She was left stranded as Stewart struck out the next hitter. Josie Jager led off the top of the second with a double off the glove of a diving Geijer, but Stewart struck out the next three to end the inning.
“Everything was working for me today,” Stewart said. “I was just trying to be relaxed and enjoy the moment. It was easier to relax when we got the early lead.
“This was so big for us. We feel like this is our year. We are a very close team, and we aren’t done yet.”
East coach Elizabeth Hyland praised her team’s performance, both physically and mentally.
“These girls were so mentally prepared,” she said. “We reminded them that this is the team that ended their season last year. Our girls came out with a purpose.”
Although he was on the opposite end of the result from last year, Central coach Jeff Tarala was philosophical.
“This was a tough one,” he said. “But, from now on, we are East’s biggest fans. They are a district school and we hope they go on and bring home some more hardware. They were the better team today. They hit the ball hard, they made the plays they had to and Danielle Stewart threw a great game.
“It stinks that someone has to lose, but you can’t win if you don’t score, and we didn’t score. But, I am so proud of these girls and I feel for the seniors. All the hard work and effort they put in. They accomplished something special. In the 70 or so years of Lincoln-Way Central, there have been two softball teams - 2008 that won state and last year - that went to state. So, they are a part of school history and hopefully have helped build a strong foundation for the future.”