East Peoria, Ill. — Tinley Park’s Alyssa Gunther did not want her career as a Titan to end like this.
Having lost to defending Class 3A state champ Glenbard South in the state semifinals, Gunther did not want that feeling of defeat. Not again.
Making plays in the batter’s box and in the field, she certainly made sure of it Saturday in Tinley Park’s 5-4 thrilling win over Sterling in the 3A third-place game at EastSide Centre.
“We wanted to bounce back from that loss (Friday),” Gunther said. “We never gave up, just kept playing all the way. Even when we’re down late, we came back and won it.”
Gunther finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI, coming up a home run short of the cycle, as Tinley Park (25-8) won the program’s first-ever state trophy.
For Tinley Park coach Wendy Podbielniak, Gunther’s performance was a storybook ending to a phenomenal career. Not just defense, not just offense. Everything.
“It’s not too often where someone can take over a game and take charge unless they’re a pitcher,” Podbielniak said. “Alyssa Gunther takes over a game. She influences these kids to play just as hard as she does. I’ve never seen a kid take over a softball game like that. It’s incredible, just completely insane.”
Gunther roped a triple down the right field line in the third, knocking in Tinley’s first run, but that was just a start.
The Titans fought back to tie things at four, but Sterling was threatening in the bottom of the sixth with runners at first and second with just one out. Planning ahead, Gunther was ready for whatever could come up.
So when Sterling’s Cassidy Gillihan popped up behind third base in the outfield grass, Gunther was there. The Illinois-bound shortstop made a clutch diving catch, popping up from the ground and throwing back to second to double off Sterling’s McKenna Pearson and end the threat.
“(The defensive plays) help the team a lot,” Gunther said. “We come up with confidence and use that momentum. Personally, I think ‘Okay, just made a play on defense, keep it going.’”
Gunther placed her hit in the top of the seventh perfectly, turning a single into a double when the ball landed behind third base in shallow left.
Two batters later, Gunther raced home on Sam Alberto’s opposite field single. Tinley Park had its lead. It wouldn’t give it back.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” Gunther said. “We made it this far, third in state, and that’s crazy. You never hear that about Tinley Park. We’re making our way.”