CRETE — The Minooka Indians softball team has been through much heartbreak in the last couple years, as they have dropped consecutive regional title games to Sandburg and Joliet West, respectively.
On a chilly Saturday morning in Crete-Monee, however, the Indians were able to get the monkey of their backs, as they upset top-seeded Lincoln-Way East 3-1, winning their first regional title since 2005.
"There's so many emotions right now," Minooka coach Mark Brown said. "I feel so happy for this group of girls, especially these seniors. Some of them have been on the losing end twice now, so to pull one through makes me so happy for them."
Minooka had been struggling to get a clutch hit all year, and Saturday they finally broke through. With the bases loaded in the top of the fourth inning; trailing 1-0 at the time, Mikayla Melone stepped up to the plate for the Indians and the senior first baseman put her team ahead. Melone ripped a double down the left field line, bringing all three runs in to put Minooka up 3-1.
"There's no feeling that compares to the way I felt after that hit," Melone said. "I knew I had to come through for my team, and to do it is incredible. It's really hard to describe the feeling."
That hit was enough for the Indians, as their pitching and defense carried them the rest of the way for the victory.
Senior Jackie Lilek started in the circle for Minooka, but was taken out after the fourth inning in place of fellow senior Sara Novak. The move, on the surface, was puzzling, as Lilek had been mowing down the Griffins' batters prior to that.
"We have two aces on our team with Jackie and Sara, and the approach we've been taking lately is to throw Jackie four or five innings and then bring Sara in to finish it up," Brown said. "When the opposing team comes through their third time of the lineup, we like to bring in Sara for a different look, and it's been working."
It was indeed working for Brown and the Indians Saturday, as Novak struck out the side in the sixth inning to keep the Indian two-run lead to the seventh.
After Minooka couldn't score, Lincoln-Way came back up with one last chance to force it to extra innings. After a groundout to Rachel May for the first out of the inning, the Griffins put the next two batters on, giving Devon Morgan a chance to tie the game for Lincoln-Way.
Morgan worked a 3-2 count on Novak, when the pitch from Novak was lined back up the middle by Morgan. Novak made the grab near her ankles, then threw it over to first base to double off Carissa Ernat to end the game.
"It was a soft line drive back to me. I thought it didn't hit the ground, but I knew it was low enough that one of the runners was going to be off the bag," Novak said of the final play. "It took me a second to look around and finish the play, but it was a good way to end it."
The win advances the Indians to the sectional semifinals Tuesday against Lockport, a team Minooka defeated earlier in the season 9-8.
"We've been a really good program the last couple years, and now we have a regional title to prove it," Brown said. "We're not done, though. We're already looking forward to Tuesday. We'll enjoy this one today, but get back to work Monday."