JOLIET – A dropped pop-up in the top of the third inning scored three runs, which was all Minooka needed to beat Lincoln-Way East, 3-1, on Saturday to claim the Class 4A Joliet West Sectional championship.
The Indians’ win over the heavily favored Griffins sends them to the Illinois State University Super-Sectional in Bloomington, where they will play Rock Island at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
It was Minooka’s second state championship, and its first since 2013.
Minooka (20-16) loaded the bases against Griffins ace Alex Storako with an infield hit, a walk and a hit batsman.
Storako had struck out two and was facing senior Stacey Tyrell. Storako induced a pop-up from Tyrell, but the ball started to drift in the wind away from the Griffins’ shortstop.
The ball hit her glove and fell to the ground. The runners, who were running hard on contact, scored easily.
“I was just trying to hit it in the hole or something,” Tyrell said. “I knew that everyone would be running, so there was a chance we would score all of the runners on anything I hit.”
The three-run lead was all Minooka senior pitcher Alex Loizon would need. She kept the Griffins’ hitters off balance the whole game by locating her pitches and changing speeds.
“I stayed ahead of the count. I always like to get ahead and get first-pitch strikes,” Loizon said. “We scouted them, so we knew what and where to throw to their lefties and righties. I was throwing my knuckle[ball] a lot, and that kept them off balance.”
East (29-2) managed to score a run in the bottom of the fourth when Paige Geraghty’s single to right was followed by Alli Jaquith’s single to left. Lauren Hunter’s two-out single to center scored Geraghty.
Danielle Drogemuller followed with a towering drive to left field that the wind kept in the park for the third out of the inning.
Loizon gave up only one hit the next three innings and finished with three strikeouts. Storako, who is going to the University of Michigan to continue her softball career, had 15 strikeouts.
“I’m so proud of these girls,” Minooka softball coach Mark Brown said. “I just can’t put it into words. Alex [Loizon] just left her heart and soul in that circle. We played defense behind her. We just knew if we could put the ball in play that they were susceptible to some mistakes.
“With Storako, with how good she throws, if you could put a couple in play and force them to make plays, that’s what we did, and we were able to push three across with that tough play, and with Alex going the way she was going, I’m just at a loss for words because I’m so happy for them.”
Minooka, which dropped a 10-0 decision to Lincoln-Way East on May 11, won arguably one of the toughest sectional championships in the state.
“Our schedule all year was tough,” Brown said. “There were no circle wins on the schedule. Early on, we were losing one-run games. There was a stretch where we got walked off four games in a row. We’re young. We have four sophomores and only two starting seniors out there. We’ve had to go through some growing pains and really learn how to win those late games.
“We started to do that in the playoffs. We’ve seen the coin flip a little bit, and now we’re able to hang onto these late leads and not give them away, and that just shows you the maturity process that occurs during a 36-game season, and how far these girls have come both mentally and physically.”