There was no fear, no intimidation in the eyes of the Morrison softball team Friday evening. None in the swings the Fillies took, none in the pitches they made and none on the basepaths they ran.
Were it not for a couple of defensive lapses, and a lack of sustained hitting that would lead to a big inning, the Fillies might have been playing in today’s Illinois Class 2A softball state championship game against undefeated Coal City. As it stood though, semifinal opponent Johnston City took full advantage of both of those situations, escaping with a 3-2 victory over Morrison in the semifinal round at the EastSide Centre.
The Fillies (25-13) will face Alton Marquette (28-6) in today’s third-place game at 4:30 p.m.
“We couldn’t ask for anything more than what we got,” Fillies coach Tammy Deter said after the loss. “We never talked about their record; we just told them to go out and go play the game.”
On paper, Johnston City (35-3) was an obvious favorite, with starter Kaley Coonce (31-2) en route to LSU on a softball scholarship next year, with 46 home runs as a team going into the game, and with a .422 team batting average.
Morrison was unfazed by all of that, even after Indians junior Cierra Hutchinson took a pitch from Danielle Stralow over the left-field wall in the bottom of the first inning to put Johnston City on the board first.
After that, the Fillies outhit Johnston City (8-4), the combination of Stralow and Christie Wiersema outpitched Coonce (half as many hits allowed, with nine strikeouts to Coonce’s five, and Coonce had an extra inning to pitch), and the momentum would have largely been in Morrison’s favor.
Would have been, but for errors in the second and fifth innings, both of which led to Indian runs.
“One thing we tried to work on all season was dropping our errors, and we worked on it really hard, but it happens. It just happens,” Deter said.
Still, Morrison almost overcame them with gritty hitting performances. Sam Sumption had a pair of hits for the Fillies out of the leadoff spot, doubling off the right-center-field wall in the third inning. Stralow equaled that accomplishment in the fourth for the Fillies, and she picked up Morrison’s first run on an RBI double by Allie Hanson.
“They were just better at getting girls across the plate,” Sumption said. “That’s the only thing that felt different. We saw they were a good-hitting team, but we’re a good-hitting team, too, and we got more hits than they did. I was so excited to face (Coonce in her last at-bat) because I’d gotten two good hits against her. We just needed to get another one, and I got bat on the ball, but...”
No one displayed more evidence of Morrison’s lack of fear than freshman Billie Conner, who was inserted as a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth. Conner battled Coonce to a standstill, then, after facing a dozen pitches from the Division I recruit, roped a single to left to score Ashley Vegter and bring the Fillies within a run.
“My teammates gave me a lot of confidence, so I thought I could do it,” Conner said. “I like fast pitchers better, so that gave me confidence, and (coach Deter) has had me bat before in that situation, so I knew it might happen. I was ready for it.”
Now, the Fillies have to pick themselves back up after a game that they were not only competitive in, but also one with plenty of chances to win it (Morrison stranded eight baserunners, all in scoring position).
“We’re going to go get ready for them,” Conner said of facing Alton Marquette. “We’re going to come out and try to win as much as we can.”
Either way, Morrison proved that a team with a double-digit loss record is more than capable of contending for, and winning, a state championship.
“Our record is just a record; it’s just games that we lost earlier in the season,” Sumption said. “The real game that counts is the game you play every day. We gave it our all; they were just able to score a little bit more.”
JOHNSTON CITY 3, MORRISON 2
Morrison 000 101 0 — 2 8 3
Johnston City 110 010 x — 3 4 1
Danielle Stralow (5 ip, 4 h, 3 r, 1 er, 2 bb, 6 so), Christie Wiersema (1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 3 so) and Allie Hanson; Kaley Coonce (7 ip, 8 h, 2 r, 2 er, 1 bb, 5 so) and Jessa Thomas. WP — Coonce. LP — Stralow. Multiple hits — Morrison (Sam Sumption 2). 2B — Morrison (Sumption, Stralow, Hanson). HR — Johnston City (Cierra Hutchinson). RBI — Morrison (Hanson, Billie Conner); Johnston City (Hutchinson, Carley Buenting). Records — Johnston City 35-3, Morrison 25-13.
Next — Morrison vs. Alton Marquette in third-place game, today, 4:30 p.m.