Casual Minooka softball followers probably know that the Indians have typically used two pitchers per game through the Class 4A postseason, starting Jackie Lilek and bringing in Sara Novak late.
Lilek and Novak are not the only players affected when the change is made. Rachel May starts games at third base, with Novak next to her at shortstop. When Novak goes to the mound, May slides over to shortstop and Lilek plays third base.
Offensively, coach Mark Brown uses May, a University of Illinois-Chicago recruit, as his leadoff hitter, and she had batted .341 and scored 21 times entering the state semifinals on Friday. Before heading to the site of the state final tournament, East Peoria's Eastside Centre, May shared her thoughts with the Morris Daily Herald.
Q. Could you have scripted a better finish, so far, to your senior season?
A. I am so pleased with how my team and myself have played to get to where we are today. I couldn't of scripted it any better. We have put in every ounce of what we have to get to where we are. I could not imagine my senior season any different and especially being able to call myself an Indian.
Q. What were you looking forward to most about the state tournament?
A. I am looking forward to a whole new environment of play and competition. These are the best four teams in the state and of course they are all going to be good. I love when games are highly competitive and when it is fun to be out there playing.
Q. With all of the success Minooka was having in other sports like volleyball and track this spring, did softball kind of get lost in the shuffle?
A. Absolutely. The softball team definitely felt like we weren't really being recognized by very many people like volleyball and track were. No one really knew how talented we really were until we were making an impressive finish in the playoffs. But now I can not thank our fans and fellow classmates (enough) for supporting us through this postseason.
Q. I know there were some tough times during the regular season. What was the low point?
A. The low point of our seasons was not winning (the Southwest Prairie) conference. We lost to teams in our conference that we should of not lost to. But I think those losses were a huge wake up call because we know how bad that feeling was and were not letting that happen to us again in the post season.
Q. Did you guys ever begin to doubt yourselves?
A. There was a couple times were we were getting very frustrated with our play and about losing easy games just because we know how talented we really are. But we bounced back very well and have been involved together on and off the field as a family.
Q. How did you end up deciding on UIC?
A. I never had to go through trying to decide what school I wanted to attend like most others do. UIC has always been my dream school to attend academically because of my desire to be in the medical field and to be in the city of Chicago. When I realized I could play softball there as well, I knew it was the absolute perfect fit for me.
Q. When did you start playing (travel softball) for the Illinois Hawks, and what has your experience with them been like?
A. This coming-up season will be my second season with the Hawks. I could not imagine being on any other team because of how much I love my coach and teammates and truly love the game of softball with them. I have been a many different teams, but none of them compare to the Hawks. My coach has pushed me to levels I never thought I would be able to reach. She has helped me on and off the field and I could not thank her enough.
Q. You've been a team captain both with the Hawks and with Minooka. What did those honors mean to you?
A. Being a captain is truly the biggest compliment and honor I could ever receive. It shows me that people do want to listen to what I have to say, believe that I am a leader and trust me with giving advice. I do whatever I can to help others, especially teammates, and being a captain allows me to do that all the time.
Q. As a leadoff hitter and third baseman/shortstop, you have important roles both offensively and defensively. Which is the bigger challenge for you and why?
A. I have always been a very tough defender and it is a comfort zone for me. I love playing the left side because of how much action you receive. But hitting seems to be a simple task, but does take a lot of work. I take hitting lessons with a professional trainer once a week to work on details and mechanics. I think the leadoff position is great for me because I love being the first one to see a pitcher and adjust quickly to what she is throwing.
Q. Is this playoff run the highlight of your softball career to date, or does anything else stand out?
A. It has been a long road for me through high school, but this post season has definitely been the peak of it all. There has been about three games that were the highlight of my seasons, and all three of them have been in the playoffs. We work so well together as a team that even when we are down we know we have the capability of coming up on top.