Newbanks sisters driving force behind Bombers' state run

Newbanks sisters driving force behind Bombers' state run

ARGENTA — It's important for a pitcher and catcher to be on the same page if a high school softball team is going to make a deep postseason run.

Argenta-Oreana (19-8) will make its first state semifinals appearance today at East Peoria's EastSide Centre, taking on Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg (25-4) for a spot in Saturday's Class 1A state championship game. At least part of the reason the Bombers have taken their campaign this far is an important battery bond.

Freshman Cassi Newbanks and junior Camilyn Newbanks make up one of A-O's most potent pitcher-catcher combinations. They're also sisters who have suited up for the Bombers in three sports this school year — volleyball, basketball and softball.

But the Newbanks' influence has been most pronounced on the diamond.

"It's kind of been a thrill ride for our team," said Camilyn, who enters today's tilt with a .659 batting average and 54 RBI while also backstopping A-O's hurlers. "How we've been working through the tough times and overcoming tough losses and making it this far and improving every day, it's really a thrill."

"And I think our team wasn't expecting us to go this far," added Cassi, who has collected a 10-3 record with a 3.04 ERA in her inaugural prep season. "And with this increased momentum ... we've been keeping going."

The Newbanks girls are not the first and won't be the last individuals tied together both by family and sport. Still, just how important these youngsters have been to the Bombers' abrupt rise can't be understated.

Camilyn holds five of A-O's 11 home runs and 19 of its 51 doubles while being one of just five team members to participate in all 27 games to date.

"It's been a moral challenge of mentality when I went into the box, and after this year I've grown so much confidence (that) I know I can do it," Camilyn said. "I've just got to put the ball in play."

Cassi shares pitching duties with senior Lydia Hays, as both have made 20 appearances in the circle and Cassi paces the Bombers with 66 strikeouts in 69 innings.

"It's definitely pressure, but I feel like I always have my team to back me up," Cassi said. "If I mess up, they're there for me. It's always been that way."

Perhaps no one is more able to support Cassi than Camilyn. That's why third-year A-O coach Angie Ridgeway loves being able to put the siblings in charge of game management.

"I know if Cassi gets frustrated, Cami can go out and calm her down," Ridgeway said after Monday's 4-2 victory over Somonauk in the super-sectional, for which Cassi and Camilyn were the Bombers' battery. "Having the sister relationship between those two is great."

Camilyn said the pair doesn't even need to turn to the dugout all that often when Cassi has the ball in her hand. The Newbanks sisters simply formulate a plan before a game begins and are comfortable enough with one another to adjust as necessary during the action.

That setup will be put to its biggest test beginning today.

A-O has won nine of its last 10 games and is riding its most positive wave of emotion to date. That's a far cry from what the Bombers were hoping to garner from this season.

"We were just wanting a regional title. We wanted to make history," said Camilyn, referencing A-O winning its first-ever piece of postseason hardware earlier this month. "But after seeing what we were capable of doing, we weren't going to be content. We wanted to win more. So we kept going."

Keep that up over the next two showdowns and the Bombers — with the Newbanks sisters front and center — will be able to call themselves state champions.

"I know everyone's wanting to go out there and try our best," Cassi said. "But we do know it's going to be our toughest competition, coming into this tournament."

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