Exactly when it happened is unclear, but there definitely was a time this season when the Morrison softball team started to show it had the makings of a squad that could make it back to the Illinois state tournament.
“We played in the Lisle tournament, and we really just meshed and jelled together really, really well,” Fillies junior Christie Wiersema said.
“I can see that point there, but I think maybe the girls started to jell maybe a little before that,” coach Tammy Deter said.
Maybe the coach is right, Wiersema said — “I think it just gradually happened.” — but it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that Morrison (25-12) is playing as well as anyone right now as it heads into a Class 2A state semifinal matchup with Johnston City at 7 p.m. Friday at the EastSide Centre in East Peoria, Ill.
“We’ve played excellent as a team,” Wiersema said. “We’ve definitely come together and are working well as a team.”
Although the Fillies are making their third trip to East Peoria in the past four years, there is not a lot of state experience on the squad. Junior Marie Deter and senior Keisha Hodge are the only players who started on the 2008 team that finished third, and Hodge is out with a season-ending injury. But several other current players were on the roster, so that could help.
“That year I was lucky I could take everybody; we didn’t have that many girls on the roster,” coach Deter said. “I think that’s going to make them feel a lot more comfortable, and I don’t think they’ll be as nervous when they go out to play because they’ve been down there and they’ve experienced the excitement and stuff that’s there.”
Wiersema said of the experience: “It definitely helps. Some of us (Wiersema, Sam Sumption and Ashley Vegter, all courtesy runners then) actually did get in to play, like I got to pinch run and even that little thing was a a big responsibility at the state level, so it was like we were able to get a feel for what it was like, and it was great.”
Of course, there’s a little more pressure this time as starters. And Johnston City won’t make things any easier.
The Lady Indians — whose hometown is in southern Illinois, about 20 miles east-northeast of Carbondale — are led by Louisiana State University recruit Kaley Coonce, one of only two seniors on the squad. She is 30-2 as a pitcher with a 0.79 earned-run average and 176 strikeouts in 178 innings. She’s also a .565 hitter, with 10 home runs, 16 doubles and 47 runs batted in.
She’s far from the only weapon, though.
The Lady Indians, who are riding a 23-game winning streak, come in with a .422 team batting average, have hit 46 home runs and average 81⁄2 runs a game.
Sophomore third baseman Cierra Hutchinson is hitting .475 with 14 home runs and 39 RBIs, senior outfielder Samantha Watkins bats .456 with eight homers and 33 RBIs, junior infielder Marissa Montgomery is a .409 hitter, freshman second baseman Allison Smiley has a .571 average, freshman catcher Jessa Thomas is batting .398 with five homers and 32 RBIs and junior shortstop Carley Bunting has a .351 average with 13 doubles and 27 RBIs.
But Morrison boasts some impressive numbers, too.
Wiersema is a .492 hitter with nine home runs and 31 RBIs, Sumption is batting .380 with five homers and 25 RBIs, junior first baseman/pitcher Danielle Stralow is hitting .336 with 31 RBIs, Vegter has a .324 average and freshman shortstop Kaitlyn Finneran is hitting .427 with three homers and 29 RBIs.
And while their winning streak is a modest five games, the Fillies have knocked off three teams in the postseason that beat them in the regular season, and they’re playing their best ball when it means the most.
“It took us probably the first half of the season to figure out what we were going to be doing and how we were going to be playing,” coach Deter said. “Then, when we reached that point I stopped the girls and I told them one night at practice: ‘Girls, you can still accomplish everything you wanted to accomplish. You’ve just got to work for it now. You’re not that far away.’ ”
Just one game, in fact, from being able to do what would make them the envy of high school softball players across Illinois: Play for a state title.