Manteno advances to state semifinals

SHARE Manteno advances to state semifinals

NORMAL – Adjustments at the plate. Adjustments in the circle.

Both played a big role Monday for Manteno, which earned its first trip to the state finals in a 4-2 Class 3A Normal Supersectional victory over East Peoria at Illinois State University.

The Panthers (39-1) will play Sterling in a Class 3A state semifinal Friday at EastSide Centre in East Peoria.

Kiley Zajdszinski made her adjustment after striking out twice against East Peoria pitcher Sarah Finck.

With the Panthers trailing 2-1 and one out in the top of the fifth, she crushed an 0-1 pitch to the gap in right-center. The triple sent home Cheyenne Koehne (single) with the tying run.

And that wasn’t all.

“I was down and ready,” Zajdzinski said. “I was waiting for a close play (at third), but it wasn’t the best throw. I felt it hit me in the back. Then I was up and coach was like, ‘Look for the ball.’”

The ball was in the dugout. That allowed Zajdzinski to trot home with the tie-breaker. An RBI single later in the inning by Kierstynn Kinast provided an extra cushion.

By that point, Manteno starter Brooke Stulga really wasn’t needing it.

She was dealing.

The righthander did some adjusting of her own after allowing a two-run home run by East Peoria’s Taylor Kellum in the top of the first.

First, there was an angry hand-slap with a teammate on the way to the dugout.

“I was frustrated with myself,” Stulga said. “You know, this was a big game and I missed my spot there. I was frustrated with myself, but I tried to use that to help me throughout the game, use it in a positive way.”

Stulga would allow just one hit the rest of the way, retiring the last 18 batters, none of which were able to hit the ball out of the infield.

“I think me and (catcher Sammy Beckwith), we both worked the zone better and we kept our pitches down more,” Stulga said. “When they got their bats on it they were driving it into the ground or hitting pop-ups.”

Stulga, meanwhile, started Manteno’s first rally in the bottom of the fourth when she coaxed a one-out walk from Finck. Kinast followed with a check-swing single to right, after which a ground ball by Aimee Holcomb resulted in a throw that Stulga beat to the plate.

Soon after came the big blow by Zadjzinski, her second of the postseason.

Against Lincoln-Way West, she followed four strikeouts with a walkoff game-winning three-run home run to clinch a regional title.

State awaits.

“There is no way to put it into words,” Stulga said. “It feels awesome. It’s phenomenal. I mean, it was awesome to win sectionals and regionals. And we’re not done yet. We’re still going.”

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