Pete Hayes - Sports Editor, The Telegraph
Marquette's Lauren Fischer, middle, hoists Adriana Schindler, left, in her arms as teammates celebrate after Fischer stopped the final penalty kick against Gibault during Wednesday's Sectional semi-final game played at McKendree College. Marquette won the game 1-0 on penalty kicks. Credit: Billy Hurst - For the Telegraph
What a strange, amazing month’s time. For local prep sports fans, it doesn’t get much better – maybe a little, but not much.
While bringing home a state championship trophy is the goal of every team and coach from the beginning of preseason practice, most know the odds of that happening are slim and none – and Slim just left town.
But for Telegraph-area teams in a variety of sports, the spring of 2016 will be looked upon as a a most special time. If not golden, at least silver and bronze.
Bringing home a state trophy is not the only barometer of a successful season. There were countless outstanding individual performances and demonstrations of good sportsmanship on fields and tracks and courts from Greenfield to Carlinville to Alton to Jerseyville and Bethalto or Wood River and Roxana.
Leading the way, of course, is the amazing Calhoun softball team and its phenomenal pitcher, Grace Baalman.
The Warriors endured extra innings – and then some – in their state semifinal 17-inning marathon victory over Trico. They went on to grab their second straight Class 1A state championship the following day. And all the while, Baalman was throwing BBs – and blanks.
This is indeed a special group of young ladies from Calhoun.
Qualifying for one state tournament in a lifetime in any sport is something most high schoolers can only imagine. But these kids have done it in softball, basketball and volleyball.
It’s more than likely that the shop classes at Calhoun High have been putting plenty of time building new trophy cases. They can thank the Flying Baalmans and Co. for the extra work.
Speaking of overtimes, the Marquette Catholic High School girls soccer team could write a book on how to survive an overtime shootout.
The Explorers did it three straight games in the postseason en route to their appearance at the Class 1A State Tournament in Naperville. First came the Althoff Sectional Tournament at McKendree University. Marquette nailed down not one, but two, shootout victories to move on. The first victim was Waterloo Gibault. Next came Columbia.
Then at the UIS-Springfield Super-Sectional, Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin was the improbable third victim in succession.
But it wsn’t just at the sectional when things were close for Marquette. The Explorers had one of their toughest fights in the regional final against Roxana. The Shells fought Marquettetoe-to-toe before the Explorers escaped with a 2-1 victory.
There were plenty of kickers who stepped up in that run for the Explorers, but not one any more than sophomore goalie Lauren Fischer. By the time the third shootout came along, she had it down. She may have had tips signaled in from the sideline once in a while, but most of the time, it was mixture of guesswork and reading the kickers’ eyes.
Once the Explorers go to the state semifinals, the string ran out and they fell in the semifinals to eventual state champion Wheaton Academy. But the next day, they regrouped, righted their ship, and came away with the third-place bronze trophy with a 4-2 win over Williamsville.
Like Calhoun in softball, Marquette’s soccer teams have become regulars at state tournaments. The Explorers have won a pair of third-place trophies, a second-place one and captured the state championship once.
It was a good year for downstate teams at the other two state soccer tourneys as well. Rochester captured its second straight state championship, this time in Class 2A. The Rockets threw a couple of shutouts at the state tourney, beating Deerfield 4-0 for the title after blanking Sycamore 2-0 in the semifinals.
Rochester won the Class 1A state title last year after getting past Marquette at the UIS Super-Sectional.
Collinsville’s Kahoks brought home the second-place trophy from the 3A state tourney. They won a thriller in overtime over Glenbard West in the semifinals, but came up short against New Trier in the final. The Trevians blanked Collinsville in the state title match for its third straight state championship.
The Alton girls track team, led by LaJarvia Brown, returned AHS to the state track and field map. The Redbirds turned in a second-place team finish at the Class 3A State Track Meet in Charleston. Brown, a Texas A & M recruit, was a double-state title winner. She came away with top honors in the 100-meter high hurdles and the triple jump.
On the boys side, East St. Louis and Edwardsville ran one-two in the final teams standings of the 3A state meet. The Flyers outdistanced the Tigers by 12 points in the final standings.
Edwardsville was led by AJ Epenesa, who captured the state title in the discus.
The Edwardsville boys tennis team caem through with an eighth-place state finish and the Tigers doubles team of Zach Trimpe and Alex Gray finished fourth.
There have been other story lines this spring, of course. Any coach worth his or her salt will tell you seeing a young athlete learn and grow during the span of a season is often the most rewarding thing about coaching.
It’s those things, as well as the thrill of seeing it all come together at a state tournament, that make high school athletics so much fun.
And so rewarding.