When it gets this late in the softball season, every step is harder and harder to take. The opposing pitchers get tougher to hit, the opposing hitters get tougher to retire and the other team seems to make more defensive plays. Throw in the rotation of regional and sectional sites, and sometimes you get the misfortune of having to play a team late in the postseason on its own field.
That last one is the fate of Morris’ softball team today, when it takes on the host of the Class 3A Manteno Sectional at 11 a.m. The Panthers beat their neighbor and arch-rival Peotone, 3-1, in eight innings on Wednesday, getting a two-run homer by winning pitcher Brooke Stulga in the eighth. If there is such a thing as momentum in sports, Manteno seems to have it. Of course, it could work the other way, and it could have gotten overly excited about the win over Peotone and have a letdown in its next game. But Morris coach Jen Lowery doesn’t see that happening.
“They are a good, solid team,” Lowery said of the Panthers. “They aren’t 36-1 for no reason. They have a good pitcher (Stulga) that throws the ball hard and throws strikes. They play solid defense and put the ball in play on offense.
“The whole team went and watched the game Wednesday and a lot of them went home and watched it again online. Most likely, there won’t be any surprises, but you never know. We have a pretty good idea of what to expect, though.”
Morris, meanwhile, has been a team of peaks and valleys. The Redskins started the season with 15 wins in their first 16 games, then seemingly limped into the postseason with losses in seven of their final 10. Now that the second season is in progress, they have won three in a row and that early season swagger has returned.
“We seemed to get deflated for a few weeks there,” Lowery said. “But, when we beat Sandwich (10-0 in a Morris Regional semifinal), that seemed to get us back to the confidence level we need.
“We’re fortunate that our lineup is solid from one through nine. We don’t really waste an inning or two waiting for certain players to come back up to bat. But, again, when you get to this time of the year, most teams are like that.
“We just have to be patient and capitalize when the other team makes a mistake. Like Manteno was in their win over Peotone. It was a 1-2 count, and their pitcher put it right down the middle of the plate, and the Manteno girl hit it a ton. That’s a deep field [230 feet to center], and it cleared the center field fence by 40 feet. She [Stulga] has a lot of power. We want to make sure that there isn’t a lot of traffic on the bases when she comes up.”
While Morris is one of the teams mentioned often when the topic of softball tradition comes up, the Redskin program has not reached the Elite Eight since 1998, when they lost to Herrin, 1-0, in the Class AA quarterfinals.
“The girls are excited, and they don’t really want to practice. They want to play the game,” Lowery said. “We were joking that the last time Morris was in the Elite Eight, [freshman pitcher] Abby [Burns] wasn’t even born. And, most of the rest of the girls were in diapers.
“It’s nice to be a part of the Morris tradition, and now these girls want to go out and make their own part of that tradition.”