LEMONT – Last season, the Lemont softball team finished second in the state in Class 3A, losing a 1-0 heartbreaker to Highland in the bottom of the seventh inning.
This season, Lemont (30-6) has returned to the IHSA Class 3A State Finals in East Peoria, and they are looking to mend that heartbreak by bringing home a state title, starting with a semifinal game against Antioch at 10 a.m. Friday. Antioch (29-3) defeated Kaneland, 9-0, in a supersectional to reach state.
As is the case with most softball teams that advance this far, it begins in the pitcher’s circle. Going by the numbers, it appears Lemont will have a leg up on most teams.
Lemont junior Sage Mardjetko, who has committed to the University of South Carolina, has been outstanding all season, posting a 0.27 ERA and a 19-1 record. In 128 2/3 innings pitched, Mardjetko has allowed only 22 hits and 28 walks while striking out 304 batters. Opponents have a miniscule .053 batting average against her and a .133 on-base percentage.
And Mardjetko has been even better in the postseason. In 24 innings over four games, she has allowed only one hit and struck out 59. Her last two games were an 18-strikeout no-hitter against Marian Catholic in the sectional championship and a 15-strikeout perfect game against Metamora in a supersectional. Going back to the regular season, Mardjetko has not allowed a run in her past 47 innings pitched. In her last seven starts, she has thrown 45 straight scoreless innings, striking out 111.
“Sage has turned it up a notch in the postseason,” Lemont coach Chris Traina said. “She always has great control, but she is really zoned in and focused in the postseason.”
Antioch will counter with sophomore pitcher Jacey Schuler, who also has a 19-1 record to go with 253 strikeouts and a 0.69 ERA in 131 1/3 innings. Schuler also is the team’s leading hitter, batting .486 with 29 RBIs. Eden Echevarria leads the team with nine home runs, while teammate Emily Brecht has hit eight.
Lemont returns a wealth of experience from last season’s runner-up team, and they have used the loss in the state title game as a motivation for this season.
“The girls are really focused,” Traina said. “They know what they want. After last year, they saw where we are at and where we could be. They have gone out and given their best.”
With Mardjetko on the mound, Lemont generally only needs a run or two. However, the offense has been able to score much more. They are averaging eight runs a game, with the biggest bats belonging to Frankie Rita, Reagan Duncan and Natalie Pacyga. Duncan is hitting .427 with a team-high six home runs and 43 RBIs to go with 10 doubles and two triples. Pacyga is also hitting .427 and has two home runs, 28 RBIs and a team-high 12 doubles, while Rita is hitting .421 with three homers, 33 RBIs and 10 doubles.
“That’s a good part of our lineup,” Traina said about the trio. “We know if we get at least one run, we have a good chance with Sage pitching. But we want to get as many as we can, and we have done a good job of that.
“Also, our defense has been pretty good. We do a good job of staying focused and staying on the balls of our feet. That can be hard with a pitcher like Sage who strikes out so many, but the girls have been very good. It helps to have a catcher like Frankie Rita. She does a great job for us and controls the other team’s running game if they get on. She also calls the pitches. She and Sage have a lot of confidence, and they have worked well together for quite a few years. Frankie is definitely a player we are glad to have behind the plate.”