EAST PEORIA — Today is unlike any since March 13 for St. Joseph-Ogden.
For the first time, the softball Spartans will take the field following a loss.
The state's top-ranked Class 2A team stumbled in Friday's sectional semifinals against Nashville, 5-2. SJ-O catcher Mickaela Fleming and center fielder Stephanie Canfield expect the Spartans to rebound quickly.
"I believe it won't be hard to mentally regroup," Fleming said. "This was such a jar for us. We've been thinking No. 1 the entire road. Now we want the second-best and third place is the best for us now.
"This loss was a rude awakening. There will only be two winners (today) and we want to be one of them."
Fleming delivered a two-run homer in the semifinals, accounting for all of the Spartans' scoring.
Canfield is one of the six SJ-O seniors who start. They want to avoid the memory of an 0-for-2 showing at state.
"We're disappointed," Canfield said, "but we'll keep our heads up. We do not want a loss in our last game."
Coach Randy Wolken, whose team plays Sherrard at 2:30 p.m., is optimistic that his players are right.
"I hope we're ready," he said, "but I won't guarantee it. It will take time, but I hope on a new day, we'll be ready to go. We'll find out about our character."
Youngsters on top
Nashville is in position to finish higher at state than it did in the Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference.
"We didn't win our conference," coach Dempsey Witte said. "DuQuoin did. We played a very good schedule that prepared us for anybody.
"St. Joe is a tough team to prepare for, but we don't fear anybody. Our mentality was to come up here and represent Southern Illinois."
Though his team (34-4) was hitless the final 5 1/3 innings, they stayed ahead thanks to an error-free defense.
"When we were up 5-0, I think they were shell-shocked and the game started flying by," Witte said.
The teams offered a contrast to each other.
SJ-O starts six seniors. Nashville starts all freshmen and sophomores, except at two positions where juniors play.
"Our one senior (Mollie Borowiak) was an all-conference third baseman last year," Witte said, "but about a month ago went out with a shoulder injury."
When SJ-O senior Abby Immke — who had the team's first hit — took a called third strike in the fourth inning, Wolken realized the difficulty of his team's challenge.
"Abby knows the strike zone better than anyone I've had," said 33rd-year coach Wolken. "When she took a called third strike, I knew he (home plate umpire) was expanding it.
"We're a good-hitting team (.494 average entering state), but that worked mentally on the girls. All year, we didn't get pitches that far outside called."
This 'n that
Elizabeth Everingham had two hits for SJ-O, a double and a triple. For the season, 46 of her 75 hits have gone for extra bases. ... No pitcher had struck out as many as 10 Spartans in a game this season before Nashville freshman Maci Ingram fanned 14. "She didn't look overpowering, but she overpowered us," Wolken said. "It's amazing how well that pitcher did. We've been hitting well the last three days in practice." ... SJ-O leadoff batter Abbey McElwee had the second Spartans' hit and stole her area-leading 64th base. ... Before McElwee batted in the fifth, she carried freshman sister Molly back to the dugout after she suffered an ankle injury at first base trying to beat out a hit. Abbey McElwee was the on-deck batter. After icing the right ankle, Molly McElwee declined X-rays and hopes to play in the season finale.