Sages turn page after loss at state

Sages turn page after loss at state

EAST PEORIA — Two teams. Too similar.

Monticello ran into an opposing softball team on Friday that had followed a similar script to reaching the state’s Final Four in Class 2A.

“All year,” Rock Island Alleman coach Mike Ebner said, “we’ve come back. We’ve been down to a lot of teams a lot of times, and we’ve bounced back.”

The same words could have been spoken by Monticello coach Courtney Hoffman.

Except on Friday, her team had one less comeback than the Pioneers, who advanced to today’s Class 2A state title  game at the EastSide Centre.

On a sunny, 83-degree afternoon where the Sages trailed, then led, then fell behind, then rallied, the final comeback fell short with the tying runs on base in the seventh inning of a 7-5 loss to an Alleman program that has five softball state championships on its résumé.

“We gave it our best shot,” Monticello catcher Allie Hislope said.

The game’s start was a virtual repeat of Monday’s super-sectional, except the first-inning home run Monticello pitcher Chrissy Gadbury allowed was a two-run shot, not a solo blast.

Gadbury got those runs back the second time she batted, powering a home run an estimated 25 feet beyond the left-field fence, scoring herself and Samantha Valentine.

In some form or another, it was what Sages third baseman Layne Buzan expected.

“We’ve been a comeback team,” Buzan said. “We don’t freak out when we’re behind.”

Gadbury (25-5) pitched three consecutive scoreless innings after the first and sent the Sages in front, 4-2, ripping  a two-run, bases-loaded single in the top of the fourth inning.

“We rattled the bats pretty well,” Hislope said.

The Sages had 11 hits against two pitchers.

Hislope was 3 for 4. Sophie Catlin, Gadbury and Valentine had two hits.

Alleman (31-6) went ahead to stay, 6-4, on a fifth-inning grand slam by a player (Mackenzie Sanchez) who had hit only three home runs this year.

Even though Ebner said the comeback “wasn’t anything that hadn’t happened before,” he admitted, “that doesn’t mean you don’t get nervous.”

The Sages (30-5) trailed by three runs, 7-4, entering the final inning.

There was not a sense of despair in the dugout.

“We never really think it’s over,” Gadbury said.

Monticello scored once in the seventh — on a solo homer by Hislope that was down the right-field line — and had the tying runs on base when the final out was secured.

Playing at state, center fielder Megan Magsamen said, “is a whole new atmosphere, but it’s still the same game we started playing when we were 4 or 5. At first, we were in awe, but we kept our nerves calm.”

Ebner said it was by design he changed pitchers.

Starter Dakota Stout has pitched in 28 of the team’s 37 games. Reliever Emily Hoffman has been called upon in 26 games.

“A lot of teams have one good pitcher,” he said. “We think we have two that are as good as any one.”

The Alleman coach said the Sages’ defense forced him to make adjustments.

“We have a couple who like to play the short game, but they were ready to take care of that,” Ebner said. “They have a very solid team.”

The Sages, who had a six-game winning streak snapped, will try to rebound today against Beecher (33-8), in the 3 p.m. third-place game.

Beecher lost a 5-1 lead in the other semifinal and dropped a 6-5 decision to Teutopolis.

“We’ll be mad (about the outcome) for a while, but when we get back together (today), we’ll put this in the past and move on,” Magsamen said.

“Even with a loss (Friday), we can’t help but be thankful we’re here,” Buzan said, “and we can still finish on a win.”

Hoffman, who has appeared at state as both a player and a coach, said one of her challenges was to slow down time.

“It’s an unbelievable, surreal experience,” she said. “Once you’re here, you don’t believe you’re here. You try to soak it all in without it going too fast.”

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