IHSA softball: Lemont tops Antioch to reach Class 3A title game

Sage Mardjetko struck out 12, and Natalie Pacyga, Raegan Duncan and Nicole Pontrelli had an RBI in Lemont’s 3-1 semifinal win

Lemont players celebrate after defeating Antioch 3-1 Friday, June 10, 2022 in the class 3A IHSA state softball semifinal game.

PEORIA — Lemont’s Natalie Pacyga had one thing in mind when she came to bat with the bases loaded in the top of the third inning of Friday’s IHSA Class 3A softball semifinal against Antioch.

“I just wanted to put the ball in play,” Pacyga said. “I had all the confidence in the world that we were going to score, so I was looking for something I could drive to the outfield.”

Pacyga, a freshman second baseman, got just that on a 1-2 pitch and hit a fly ball to center field. Allison Pawlowicz, who started the one-out rally with a single, tagged and slid home ahead of Eden Echeverria’s throw to give Lemont a 1-0 lead. Raegan Duncan, a sophomore third baseman, followed with a single up the middle to score Alyssa DiMaio, who had reached on an error on her sacrifice bunt. Echeverria’s throw home was in plenty of time to cut down Mallory Corse - courtesy running for junior catcher Frankie Rita, who had singled - trying to score, but Lemont (33-6) came out of the inning with a 2-0 lead en route to a 3-1 victory that pushed them into Saturday’s state championship game at 11:30 a.m. at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex against St. Ignatius, a 3-0 winner over Mahomet-Seymour.

And, with junior pitcher Sage Mardjetko in the circle, that seemed like enough, considering that Mardjetko had not allowed a run in her previous 47 innings entering the game.

“When we got two runs, we felt really good,” Pacyga said. “Especially with Sage pitching. She is just amazing to watch pitch.”

Mardjetko, however, was touched for a run in the bottom of the fourth. Jacey Schuler led off the inning for Antioch (29-4) with a single and courtesy runner Miranda Gomez stole second. Two outs later, Aubrey Ultsch (2 for 3) doubled to center to score Gomez and cut the Lemont lead in half.

That was all the Sequoits could muster against Mardjetko, who allowed five hits and two walks while striking out 12. Antioch pitcher Jacey Schuler, a sophomore, allowed three runs, one earned, on six hits and struck out eight.

Lemont’s Sage Mardjetko fires a pitch against Antioch Friday, June 10, 2022 in the class 3A IHSA state softball semifinal game.

“I didn’t have my best stuff today, but I was able to get through it,” Mardjetko said. “I think we were all a little nervous.”

Mardjetko is known for her stellar performance in the pitcher’s circle, but it was her bat that keyed a sixth-inning rally. With two outs, she hit a grounder up the middle that Antioch second baseman Emily Brecht dove and stopped, but Mardjetko beat it out. The next batter, junior Nicole Pontrelli, then slugged a triple to center, scoring courtesy runner Olivia Parent for a 3-1 lead.

“On the first pitch, I got the bunt sign, but it was a ball,” Pontrelli said. “Then I got the green light to swing away, and I got a pitch I could drive. It really felt like it brought the team up when we scored. To be up two runs with Sage pitching is a great feeling.”

Antioch didn’t go away easily. In the bottom of the seventh with two outs, Sophia Shaffer walked, and a wild pitch sent her to second with Wisconsin commit Echeverria, who had doubled to deep left in her previous at-bat, at the plate. Echeverria worked a full count before Mardjetko caught her looking to end the game.

“Antioch is a great team,” Mardjetko said. “Now, we have to come out here tomorrow and do what we do.”

Last season, Lemont dropped a 1-0 decision to Highland in the title game.

“We aren’t done yet,” Pontrelli said. “We still have another game to win and finish it off. That was the goal when the season started.”

Lemont’s Nicole Pontrelli makes a running catch in foul territory against Antioch Friday, June 10, 2022 in the class 3A IHSA state softball semifinal game.

Lemont coach Chris Traina was happy to see her team advance despite the nerves.

“After getting second last year, there were some expectations and pressure to get back,” she said. “It almost seemed like we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. Hopefully that’s out of our system and we can relax and come out and do what we do tomorrow.

“I thought our defense played very well. Give Antioch a lot of credit. They are a very good team and put the ball in play quite a bit. Sage didn’t have her best stuff, but it says a lot about who she is to win without her best stuff. [Catcher] Frankie Rita did a great job of calling the game, too.

“That was a huge hit by Nicole Pontrelli. She put the ball in play hard and it was a huge run. Two runs ahead in the late innings feels a lot better than one run.”

Antioch coach Anthony Rocco complimented his team on a great season.

“It’s been a fun year,” Rocco said. “This game felt like a championship game. It was the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state. We were No. 1 for eight weeks, and this is a great group. It’s going to be tough to lose Gabby Debevec, who will play at University of Illinois, but we have a lot of players coming back. We don’t rebuild, we reload. We’ve won nine straight regionals and two straight sectionals.

“This was a fantastic season. We played a good schedule, lost to Marist, and beat Barrington and Huntley. That prepared us for the postseason. We hope to be back here next year.”