Some perspective is needed in the aftermath of the East Peoria softball team’s 2-0 loss Saturday to Marengo in the Class 3A state championship game on the Raiders’ home field at EastSide Centre.
Tears flowed from East Peoria players after the game. After all, losing is something the Raiders (31-5) didn’t experience much this season. They had won 26 in a row before losing Saturday.
School history was made despite the defeat. No East Peoria sports team had ever made it to the state finals before the softball team did it in 2017.
“The loss hurts because we didn’t reach our goal, but the girls will realize in the next year, or five or 10 years from now what a special season this was,” said Raiders coach Denee Menzione.
How special? Besides making school history, East Peoria outscored its opponents 47-2 in its seven postseason games and had shutouts in 12 of its final 14 games.
Included in the postseason run was an impressive 15-0 clubbing of Streator and pitcher Maggie McGurk, a University of Toledo recruit, in the Metamora Sectional championship game.
The state championship game was a pitcher’s duel between two seniors.
East Peoria’s Alyssa Graves, a 6-foot-1 southpaw whose long arms and legs make her a nightmare for opposing batters, and Marengo right-hander Mariah Dionne, who is seven inches shorter than Graves, battled it out on the sunny, hot, breezy day.
They allowed just seven hits between them.
After throwing shutouts in East Peoria’s first six postseason games, Graves (29-2) gave up two unearned runs in the top of the sixth inning Saturday and that was all Marengo needed to win the state championship.
Dionne (20-5) didn’t allow a run in the state finals.
She tossed a shutout in Marengo’s 1-0 win over LaGrange Park Nazareth on Friday in the semifinals. East Peoria beat Rochester 4-0 in the semifinals.
Dionne gave up four hits to East Peoria. She walked three and fanned seven. Graves gave up three hits and two walks to Marengo and she struck out seven.
Marengo (35-6) scored twice with two out in the sixth on a throwing error by East Peoria shortstop Ashley Emert and an RBI single by Megan Anthony.
Emert had an opportunity for redemption when she came up with runners on second and third and two out in the bottom of the seventh.
The Illinois State University recruit battled Dionne in an epic 10-pitch at-bat before grounding out to shortstop Leah Secor on a smash that went directly to Secor.
Had the ball gone a couple feet in either direction, the game would have been tied.
After falling behind 0-2, Emert fouled off five pitches including two shots to leftfield and worked the count to 2-2 before making the game’s final out.
“That’s who I want at the plate in that situation,” Menzione said about Emert.
Menzione praised Graves for keeping her composure on the mound after dealing with something she rarely had to deal with this season. The other team scored on the Butler University recruit.
“The game could have gotten out of hand (after Marengo scored), but Alyssa kept us in it,” Menzione said. “We had runners on base a few times (Saturday). We just couldn’t get a big hit.”
East Peoria left seven runners stranded, including two in the first, fifth and seventh innings.
The Raiders didn’t lose to a rookie pitcher. Dionne, a four-year starter at Marengo, pitched in 22 postseason games during her high school career including the Indians’ 2-1 loss to Washington in the 2015 Class 3A state championship game.
Dionne kept East Peoria batters off-balance, especially with her rise ball and changeup.
“Mariah pitched a great game,” said Marengo coach Dwain Nance. “She used all four corners of the plate.”
“She kept us on our toes,” Menzione said.
“She was hitting her spots,” said Graves’ Dionne’s mound opponent.
This was Marengo’s fifth trip to the state finals, all with Nance as coach. The Indians also were state champs in 2011 and they finished second in 2012 and 2015.
Six of the East Peoria’s seven seniors are moving to play softball in college. Mentioning that fact put a smile on Menzione’s face.
“It means a lot to me that these six seniors love the game so much that they want to continue playing,” she said.
Steve Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.