SENECA — Seneca softball coach Dan Stecken has seen some great teams accomplish tremendous things during his 13-year tenure as the Lady Irish skipper.
This season's club has now proven itself as the winningest softball team ever in SHS history, though, recording victory number 31 against only three defeats in a somewhat tense 5-4 triumph over Peotone on Tuesday in the Seneca Class 2A Regional semifinals.
The win total bests the previous record (30) established by the 2011 Lady Irish ballclub that finished 30-9.
But this year’s Seneca squad — the No. 7-ranked team in the final Illinois Coaches Association 2A Poll and the No. 2 seed in its sub-sectional — certainly had to sweat out the record victory against No. 7 seed Peotone.
Trailing by a run entering the bottom of the fifth, Seneca rallied for three markers after key run-scoring hits from senior Lyda Robinson (2-for-3) and junior Kylie Winsor. The Lady Irish then held on as the Blue Devils tallied a run in the seventh and had the tying run at the plate before Robinson turned in a sparkling defensive play at shortstop that ended the nerve-racking triumph.
Seneca will now face Chicago Christian (24-4) in the regional championship Saturday morning at 11.
"We definitely had to earn that victory, and I really have to tip my cap to Peotone because they played a great game," Stecken said. "Ultimately we did enough to win, but we didn't make plays when we needed to, especially offensively.
“When you let a team hang around the pressure really builds, but I was really proud to see Lyda Robinson step up late not only with her bat, but with her glove. In the end we got it done, and that's what good teams do is win close ballgames, especially in the postseason."
Peotone (10-18) got two hits and a solo home run apiece from Lily Ruckman and Sam Gwaizda.
"I'm super proud of the way our girls played against a great team like Seneca," said PHS coach Noah Champene. "I really wanted to come out and show them they were in for a game, and I think we did that. It didn't fall our way, unfortunately."
The Lady Irish got on the board in the bottom of the first inning against Peotone starting hurler Emma Herder (4 IP, 4 R, 5 H, 2 BB, 3 K). Robinson stroked a one-out double to right and went to third on a wild pitch. Winsor then laid down a deftly-placed squeeze bunt that plated Robinson, and Seneca led 1-0.
One more would follow in the second frame, as Britney Helms reached on a bunt single and went to second on another wild pitch. One batter later, Claudia Morris blistered a single off third base that scored Helms to put the Lady Irish up 2-0.
Meanwhile, Seneca starting and winning pitcher Maggie Carpenter (7 IP, 4 R, 4 H, 5 BB, 8 K) — who upped her record in the circle to 17-2 — was cruising along with a no-hitter before Ruckman blasted a solo homer to left-center in the fourth to cut the gap to 2-1.
Peotone would add a pair in the fifth after a wild pitch and a passed ball resulted in runs and a 3-2 Blue Devil lead.
But Seneca caught fire in the last half of the stanza. Hayley Wilson led off with a bunt single and stole second. Taylor Bushman followed with an infield single, pushing Wilson to third before Bushman stole second. There, Robinson lined a two-run single to left and went to second on the throw to the plate that put the Lady Irish back up 4-3.
"I just thought put the ball in play and good things will happen," Robinson said. "We were down one at the time, so I just believed in myself and what I always try to do, and it worked out."
Winsor then plated Robinson with a single to left that put Seneca up 5-3 after five.
Peotone made things tense in the top of the seventh when Gwaizda touched Carpenter with a two-out solo bomb to center that cut the margin to 5-4, but Robinson closed things out with a nifty 6-3 putout that established her club as the most prolific softball winners at Seneca.
"It's been a great season, and hopefully we've got a lot more wins to come," Stecken said. "But today was very special for a group that's been one of the best I've coached in 13 years,"
Seneca 5, Peotone 4
PEOTONE (4) — Herder p/lf 3-0-0-0, Gwaizda ss 4-2-2-1, J. Graffeo lf/p 2-0-0-0, Barnoski 3b 2-0-0-0, Ruckman rf 3-1-2-1, M. Graffeo 1b 3-0-0-0, Vowell c 3-0-0-0, Miller 2b 2-0-0-0, Delorta cf 2-1-0-0. Totals 24-4-4-2.
SENECA (5) — Bushman cf 4-1-1-0, Robinson ss 3-2-2-2, Winsor 1b 2-0-1-2, Jashari pr 0-0-0-0, Draves c 3-0-0-0, M. Carpenter p 3-0-0-0, Helms lf 2-1-1-0, Culbreth rf 2-0-1-0, Morris 3b 2-0-1-1, Flatness ph 0-0-0-0, Wilson 2b 3-1-1-0. Totals 24-5-8-5.
Peotone (10-18) 000 120 1 — 4 4 2
Seneca (31-3) 110 030 x — 5 8 0
LOB – Peotone 5; Seneca 5. 2B – Robinson, Culbreth. HR – Ruckman, Gwaizda. SB – Bushman, Helms, Morris, Wilson. SAC – Winsor. HBP – Herder (by M. Carpenter).
Peotone ip r er h bb k
Herder 4.0 4 4 5 2 3
J. Graffeo (L) 2.0 1 1 3 1 1
M. Carpenter (W, 17-2) 7.0 4 4 4 5 8