SENECA — St. Joseph-Ogden didn't require Elizabeth Everingham's record-setting power hitting in Monday's Class 2A super-sectional softball game. The Spartans did all the little things against Chicago Christian, scoring four runs on bunts en route to an 11-1 five-inning victory.
The win improved SJ-O's record to 40-0 and advanced the Spartans to the state tournament for the first time since 2006, when they won it all.
"Who'd have ever thought we'd win 40 in a row?" SJ-O coach Randy Wolken said. "I knew this team was good, but that is something else,
"Every hurdle put in front of the girls, they are able to clear. ... We have all the parts — great fielding, great pitching, great hitting, great base running."
Abby Immke got things rolling for SJ-O with a perfect suicide squeeze bunt in the first inning. Her bunt scored Abbey McElwee, and when Knights pitcher Becky DeRuiter threw the ball away, Stephanie Canfield came around to score as well.
Wolken drills his team on bunting routinely. When he saw the soft ground on the field at Seneca, he knew it would be a good day for bunts and slap hits. Though all his girls can bunt well, Wolken calls Immke his team's best bunter. Every time he calls on her to make the tough play, she does so without hesitation.
"Squeeze plays aren't very much pressure, not for me," Immke said. "I just take my time, relax, and do what I need to do."
The Spartans didn't win the game by bunting alone, however. In the second inning, Madi Poulter hit a two-RBI double. In the third, Mickaela Fleming drove in SJ-O's fifth run with a double.
Chicago Christian would get one run back in the top of the fourth, but Everingham would quickly end the Knights' rally. The SJ-O pitcher gave up just four hits in five innings, striking out nine and walking one, to get the win.
The offense would give Everingham a short day on the mound with a six-run outburst in the fifth. With no outs, Fleming bunted and reached on an error, plating pinch runner Victoria Roberts. Kenzie James executed another suicide squeeze, scoring Shelby Franzen for SJ-O's fourth run via bunt.
Samantha Fleming followed with a two-RBI double, making the score 9-1. Molly McElwee slapped a single to score the 10th run, and two batters she later scored on Canfield's single for
the 11th run, ending the game. Canfield finished 4 for 4 with a run and one RBI.
This group of Spartans will be making their first trip to the state finals. Wolken does not fear his team will have much anxiety about playing on Illinois' grandest stage, though.
"These girls seem like they're ready for everything, all of the time," he said.
After playing its last three games with just one day in between, SJ-O will have a few extra practice days.
"We'll talk and see what we need to do, get a couple of practices in, and practice on the field in (East) Peoria."
With 40 wins under their belt, confidence is high among the players.
"I hope we are unstoppable," Everingham said. "We've got momentum with us."
"I think we're unstoppable," Immke said. "I think we can go all the way,"
SJ-O will take on Nashville at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the East Side Centre in East Peoria.
SJ-O is one win from tying the state record for most softball wins in a season. The record is not on the minds of the Spartans, though.
"We have a few wrinkles we need to work out," Wolken said. "Us hitting is the biggest thing. We haven't seen really great pitching all year, so that will be an area of concern for us."