EAST PEORIA — On a 3-2 pitch that would have been ball four, Marist junior first baseman Haley Richy wanted a little more. So she swung at the shoulder-high pitch and hit a towering grand slam.
The blast capped a five-run fifth inning that lifted the RedHawks to a 5-0 win over Bartlett in the Class 4A state title game Saturday at EastSide Centre.
The win gives Marist the distinction of being the most improbable state champion of any class.
“This doesn’t feel real, I am in shock,” said Richy, who was 2-for-3 with a double and four RBI. “I had to bounce back from my last at-bat (strikeout). I got pretty excited.”
The teams had the most combined losses of any state final pairing. The Hawks finished the season 32-9 while the RedHawks (27-15) ended on a 12-game winning streak. They head into next season with six of their top seven hitters returning.
The 15 losses are the most by any state champion, and Marist is just the third state champion with double-digit losses. Thornwood (32-10) in 1998 and Lincoln-Way East (23-11) in 2002 are the other two.
“It’s unreal,” Marist coach Denise Bromberek said. “I’m just proud to be a RedHawk. The mindset was we had nothing to lose and we clicked at the right time and never stopped clicking.”
Maggie Gorman, who hit the go-ahead two-run home run in the semifinal win over Elk Grove, doubled to start the fifth. Ashlynn Kokaski sacrificed her to third with a bunt before Katie Caulfield was hit by a pitch and stole second. Brooke Wilson (2-for-3, run, RBI) squeezed home Gorman for a 1-0 lead.
An infield hit by Audra Hecker (2-for-3) set the stage for Richy’s blast to left field against pitcher Tori Burke (21-7).
Marist senior pitcher Kristin Klutcharch (18-11) scattered four hits and was the recipient of error-free defense led by third baseman Caulfield and shortstop Brooke Wyderski. It was Klutcharch’s second shutout in a row at state.
“I can’t believe it,” Klutcharch said. “My defense was unbelievable today as they always are.”
She got out of a one out bases-loaded jam in the third inning behind a force out at home on a grounder to Wyderski and a back-handed play by Caulfield on a line drive heading down the left-field line.
Even Hawks coach James Wolfsmith admired the play.
“That third baseman made a great play on that ball,” Wolfsmith said. “ That was a rocket shot and that would have cleared the bases. I give her a lot of credit, that is what the game of softball is all about.”
Kaylyn Zierke was 2-for-3 for Bartlett.