'Toppers are a tight-knit group
BROADLANDS — Kylee West is a pitcher whose job is usually to throw the ball.
Last week, she was the one who got the ball rolling for Schlarman.
In the wake of an IHSA mandate that the school forfeit 13 softball victories and that head coach Randy Skaggs was suspended for the remainder of the season, West organized a colorful protest.
Tuesday was the fourth game since the IHSA declaration was made that the Hilltoppers were outfitted in black knee-high socks. The reference is to the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal.
"We wanted to do that because of what's going on and we wanted people to know how we feel," said West, the lone softball senior.
The reaction was somewhat unexpected. Until a newspaper reporter questioned the players Tuesday, there was no feedback.
"I think people thought it was part of our uniform, that we don't know how to match (colors)," Lea Hall said following the Hilltoppers' 4-0 Class 1A regional semifinal victory against Villa Grove.
"I was kind of disappointed," added Hall about no one noticing the socks until the fourth game.
Hall supplied all the offense West and the Hilltoppers needed to advance into Saturday's 11 a.m. title game at Heritage High School. She socked a two-run triple in the first inning and a two-run double in the third. Each time, she drove in Sydne Bryant and West.
"My hitting has been struggling, but I've worked hard and it has paid off," Hall said.
Schlarman has worked diligently off the field to make certain the late-season developments didn't serve as a distraction.
"We're trying to use it as motivation, but not let it affect us," said West, who scattered four hits, walked no one and struck out five.
The black socks aren't the team's only additive. Each player now wears blue wristbands inscribed with two numbers: 14 and 44.
"The 14 is for Coach (Skaggs) and the 44 is for Mindy (Garrelts), so we can represent them on the field," Hall said.
Garrelts is the sophomore infielder whose season was ended after 18 games by the IHSA edict. She continues to be one of the first squad members to arrive for daily preschool weight lifting sessions.
"Mindy is our team angel," West said. "She works harder than anybody."
Hall's father, Greg, is 3-1 since taking over as the interim coach. He said he doesn't deserve credit.
"Coach Skaggs taught them well," he said. "That's where the mental toughness comes from. I just go out and fill in."
Villa Grove junior Lizzy Smith (12-11) allowed five hits, walked four and struck out six. The Blue Devils' only senior, Kilee Hoffman, had two extra-base hits.