One thing was certain during the 2022 softball season. When Lemont had Sage Mardjetko in the pitcher’s circle, the other team wasn’t going to score very much. In fact, they would be lucky to get a hit, let alone a run.
Her performance earned her The Herald-News Softball Player of the Year honor, as well as being named the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year.
Mardjetko capped her stellar junior season with a no-hitter against St. Ignatius in the Class 3A state championship game as Lemont picked up a 1-0 win to become a state champion for the first time in the program’s history. It was her 11th no-hitter of the season. Mardjetko also led Lemont to a Class 3A runner-up finish in 2021.
“It really hasn’t sunken in yet,” Mardjetko said after the state title game. “It probably will on the ride home.”
The University of South Carolina-bound Mardjetko is following a family tradition. She grew up watching two of her older sisters, Jade and Nina, pitch, and she wanted to do the same.
“I first started pitching when I was 5 or 6,” she said. “Pretty much when I started playing softball, I wanted to be a pitcher. My sisters were pitchers, and they taught me how to do it. I loved it. I like to be in control of things, and as a pitcher, I get to control and determine the outcome of the game.”
She finished the season with a sparkling 21-1 record and a 0.29 ERA. In 142 innings, she allowed just 25 hits, 31 walks and six earned runs to go with 329 strikeouts.
Listed at 5-foot-11 on the Lemont roster, Mardjetko provides an imposing figure in the circle. And, although she throws her fastball at an above-average velocity, she does not rely on pure power in order to dominate lineup after lineup. It’s her assortment of pitches, and mastery of all of them, that sets her apart.
“I throw six pitches,” she said. “I have a riseball, a screwball, a curve, a drop, a change and an off-speed drop. The change is off-speed, but it kind of cuts across the plate. The off-speed drop is like my drop, but I throw it slower.
“I will throw any of them at any time, so it’s kind of hard for a batter to know what’s coming.”
Mardjetko is also different from most high school pitchers in that she and catcher Frankie Rita call the pitches themselves. That comes from years of working together in both high school and travel ball.
“We know each other really well,” Rita said. “It’s fun to sit back there and just watch Sage work. I know I can put down a signal for any pitch at any time and she will throw it where I want it. We know what’s working best on any given day, and we work well together.”
While the natural talent is obvious from watching Mardjetko pitch, she puts in the work as well.
“I try to throw for at least an hour at least five days a week, if not more,” she said. “I grew up playing for good coaches with the Lemont Lightning and Lemont Rockers, and now I play my travel ball with the Beverly Bandits. I have to credit my pitching coach, Nancy Evans, from taking me from being a good pitcher to being a great pitcher.
“Most of the time, me and Frankie go into a game with a game plan, but, depending on what I am throwing the best on a given day, we may have to adjust it on the fly. She knows me really well, and we think along the same lines.”
Lemont coach Chris Traina now has had the pleasure of coaching the two best pitchers to come through the school. She also coached Suzie Rzegocki, who was Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year in her senior season at Lemont and went on to have a stellar career at Purdue University.
“They are two different pitchers,” Traina said about Mardjetko and Rzegocki. “I would say that Sage has more movement on her pitches. Any coach would be blessed to have one pitcher like that in their career. I am definitely blessed to have had them both.”
After her senior year next year, Mardjetko plans to follow another family tradition when she is at South Carolina.
“I plan to study dentistry,” she said. “My dad is a dentist and so is one of my older sisters. I have five sisters and a brother, and all the girls play softball. My younger sister, Rhea, is a sophomore and she got brought up to play with us in the playoffs, so that was really special to have her on the same team with me.
“When COVID was going on, we would all go in the backyard and play whiffle ball. Since we are all so competitive, it would almost always turn into a fight. I know a lot of the girls I play against from travel ball, and I am friends with them off the field. But once I get in that circle, I don’t have any friends on the other team. I don’t care if they were on my travel team or anything like that. If I am in the circle and they are at the plate, I want to get them out.”
Much more often than not, she does just that.