IHSA softball: Lemont’s defense key in Class 3A title run

Lemont made several outstanding defensive plays on its way to first softball state championship

PEORIA – During its two days at the IHSA Class 3A State Tournament, the Lemont softball team was led by pitcher Sage Mardjetko. Mardjetko, a junior who has committed to the University of South Carolina, allowed only four hits and one run over 14 innings, while striking out 25.

She was by no means, however, a one-person show.

The Lemont defense made only one error in those 14 innings, and they made several plays that were web-gem worthy.

In the semifinal game, left fielder Nicole Pontrelli made a running catch on a long foul ball hit by Antioch’s Grace Green in the second inning. In the fifth inning of that game, with a runner on second and Lemont holding on to a 2-1 lead, Antioch’s Gabby Debevec hit a grounder that looked like it would get through and score the runner to tie the game. Mardjetko was able to get her glove down and slow it down just enough for shortstop Allison Pawlowicz to grab it and throw Debevec out at first to end the threat.

Lemont flashed the leather early in the title game. After Mardjetko struck out the first two hitters in the bottom of the first, St. Ignatius’ Samantha Steinhofer lined a shot destined for left field. However, Lemont third baseman Raegan Duncan, who was positioned about 40 feed from home plate, reached up and snared the ball for the third out. In the second inning, Lizzy Nejman hit a grounder toward the hole between first and second. Lemont first baseman Avaree Taylor fielded the grounder and tossed to second baseman Natalie Pacyga, who had hustled over to cover first. Pacyga also delivered a five-star play in the bottom of the sixth when leadoff hitter Grace Van Pelt hit a foul pop behind first. Pacyga sprinted after it and made a sliding catch for the out. In the fifth inning, with a runner on first and Lemont holding onto a 1-0 lead, Pontrelli tracked down a long fly by St. Ignatius’ Ellie Giles near the fence in left.

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.

The cumulative defensive effort was not lost on Lemont coach Chris Traina.

“I thought our defense was outstanding all weekend,” she said. “That line drive that Raegan caught at the start of the championship game was a big play, and so was the sliding catch by Pacyga. And, Nicole Pontrelli really got great jumps on the ball in left field in both games.

“We don’t win the title without the way our defense played.”

The wrong pants turned out all right

Lemont made the trip to Peoria on Thursday night. When they were dressing to come to the field Friday morning, Raegan Duncan discovered that she had packed the wrong uniform pants.

“I was unpacking my clothes at about 7:30 Friday morning and saw that I packed the pants that I wear with my travel team,” she said. “Those are navy blue, like ours, but they have a white stripe down the side, and ours don’t. I texted everybody on the team to see if anyone had an extra pair of medium navy pants. Natalie Pacyga texted back and said she had an extra pair, but they had a small rip in the side. I said that would be fine, so that’s what I wore.

“I didn’t have my parents go out and get me a new pair after we won. Those pants won for us in the first game, so I wanted to stick with what worked.”

Blast from the past

In the stands during both days of the state finals was University of Wisconsin associate head coach Kirsten Verdun. Verdun went 40-0 as a pitcher [the wins in a season still are a state record] and hit .565 with 19 doubles, seven triples, 12 home runs and 70 RBIs in her senior season at Coal City to lead the Coalers to a Class 2A state title in 2010. She went on to have a stellar career at DePaul, earning All-Big East and All-American honors, and played professionally for the Chicago Bandits. Verdun was watching Antioch center fielder Eden Echevarria, who already has committed to Wisconsin, as has Marist catcher Emily Bojan, who was competing in the Class 4A finals.

More to come?

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Lemont’s state championship is that every one of the 10 starters on the team will return next season. Mardjetko, Pontrelli and catcher Frankie Rita are juniors; Duncan, Pawlowicz, center fielder Alyssa DeMaio, Taylor and right fielder Mallory Corse are sophomores; and Pacyga and designated player Maya Hollendoner, who scored the winning run in the title game, are freshmen.

“It’s going to be fun next year with everyone coming back,” Traina said. “I don’t think motivation will be a problem. The girls will have a target on their backs all year next year as defending state champions, and they will get everyone’s best.

“I am sure they will be ready.”