SJ-O softball team motors along
ST. JOSEPH — In 1988, the average price for a gallon of gasoline was 91 cents. A dozen eggs sold for 65 cents. A postage stamp required 24 cents.
In central Illinois, the high school softball team from St. Joseph-Ogden won 20 games.
Not everything has changed in the past 25 years. Before the current month ends, the SJ-O softball team will win its 20th game, marking the 25th consecutive year for achieving that milestone.
The Spartans — ranked second in the state in Class 2A — made Paxton-Buckley-Loda their 17th consecutive victim this spring on Thursday, in an 18-0 triumph ended by the run rule after 4 1/2 innings.
If you're looking for egos and complacency, don't look at the SJ-O lineup.
"We can get better," said Abbey McElwee, who was 3 for 3 and stole three bases.
"We won't be satisfied until we get to state," said pitcher Elizabeth Everingham, who retired the first eight Panthers she faced in a two-hit shutout.
If you're looking for a solid lineup of quality players, check out the Spartans.
"This is a pretty darned good team," said Randy Wolken, the school's only softball coach the 33 years it has fielded a team. "There's a lot of potential.
"There's power, good speed, good bunting and slapping, good pitching."
At a school that knows something about success — the 2006 season ended with a state championship — a squad with seven seniors may find reason to celebrate again in June.
It won't be a surprise. McElwee recalls what her father, Buddy, told Wolken after the 2006 title run.
"My dad said, 'Wait until 2012,' " said the senior whose freshman sister, Molly, is hitting over .400 this year.
Another senior, Parkland College recruit Shelby Franzen, was in the stands at East Peoria for the '06 state finals.
"It was the greatest feeling," Franzen said. "You wanted to be those girls."
Now, they are. Wolken prefers not to compare teams, but he said "it could be" when asked if this team might be his best.
Six players have hit home runs, including Mickaela Fleming, who had a two-run shot against PBL (12-6). Ten players have stolen bases. Four have at least 12 thefts.
Though Everingham — the reigning Area Player of the Year — is the acknowledged pitching ace, backup Samantha Fleming hasn't allowed an earned run in five outings.
Despite the large number of seniors, the focus is not on graduation and beyond. "We all have the will to play and want to be here," Franzen said.
Wolken orchestrates the program but has plenty of help.
"We're spoiled," Abbey McElwee said, "because we have so many coaches. There are pitching coaches (two), a catching coach, hitting coaches, a coach for defense."
Wolken is one of seven staff members who are either full time or volunteers.
Eight players had hits against PBL. Abbey McElwee and Samantha Fleming each had three. Abby Immke, Mickaela Fleming and Abbey McElwee all had three RBI. Everingham, Franzen and Victoria Roberts had two hits apiece.
At 17-0, St. Joseph-Ogden’s softball team can be considered a candidate to reach state later this spring in Class 2A. Three other area teams that are title threats, courtesy of prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner:
Girls’ track and field
The Falcons have proven state medalists in Sydni Meunier and Angel Gaesser, who ran first and second, respectively, last spring in the 800 meters. The seniors are medal contenders in multiple events (Meunier is the defending 1,600-meter titlist) and coach Erika Kostoff’s squad could get points from others, including senior twins Jaymi and Jordyn Nettleton.
Boys’ track and field
The Spartans’ 61-member roster features four athletes who’ve previously earned state medals. With a stable of strong 400- and 800-meter runners, those events will be well-covered, as will the distance relays. SJ-O also has point potential in the hurdling and jumping events. Alex Arteaga, Zeke Elkins and Sam Gilly are among the Spartans sure to shine.
The Warriors have won regional titles the past five years under coach Lenny Sementi and his current squad could be the best yet, anchored by sophomore pitcher Erin Walker and eight seniors, including college-bound players Sam Ledbetter and Lexi Rogers as well as Kelsey Cleland, who started the week with a .500 batting average.