Marengo walks off with 3A crownMarengo's Larissa Pfeiffer slides into home after tagging up and scores the winning run against Lasalle-Peru. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 13, 2011 11:48AM
EAST PEORIA — Larissa Pfeiffer’s eyes lit up and her cheeks were flushed with excitement. “I have been in the (local papers) a lot in the past week, but now it’s time for the team to shine,” the Marengo junior designated hitter said.
Pfeiffer led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a single and scored the game’s only run on freshman catcher Taylor Carlson’s sacrifice fly in the Indians’ 1-0 victory over LaSalle-Peru in the Class 3A state title game Saturday afternoon at EastSide Centre.
The state championship is the first in any sport in Marengo’s history. Pfeiffer had two of her team’s five hits off Cavaliers’ ace Ally Smith (20-5).
Star senior southpaw Chloe Montgomery (26-6) was sensational in posting her second consecutive state tournament shutout for Marengo (33-9).
After Pfeiffer led off the bottom of the seventh with a sharp single into left, senior centerfielder Alyson Grude smashed a double into right-center to put runners at second and third.
Grude had struck out in her two previous plate appearances. “I knew I had to do something,” she said. Grude originally tried to advance Pfeiffer with a bunt, but was unsuccessful. “At that point, I just choked up and looked to make contact,” she said.
Carlson fouled off six pitches before the dramatic high fly ball into medium-left.
“She wasn’t really giving me a lot, but the last pitch just felt right to me,“ Carlson said.
Pfeiffer got the go signal from her coach, Dwain Nance.
“If anything, I actually waited a half-second just to make sure [LaSalle-Peru left fielder Nina Bacidore] caught it so that I didn’t leave early,” Pfeiffer said. “I wasn’t sure if it was deep enough, but once I got the signal to go, I just knew I was going to score.”
The Illinois Wesleyan-bound Montgomery shut down the Cavaliers (25-7), limiting the team to just four hits. In the second and third innings, LaSalle-Peru hitters slugged leadoff doubles.
Montgomery stranded both at third with some superb off-speed throws that continuously flummoxed the Cavaliers’ hitters. “Fortunately I’ve been in this situation enough to know how to get myself out of it,” she said.
“What more can you say about her?” Nance said. “She’s a great kid, a great competitor, and we just rode her in the state tournament.”
“I just had to stay positive in those situations,” Montgomery said. “I have a lot of faith and confidence in the people around me, and a great defense to back me up.”
Montgomery nearly put the game away offensively by smashing two long fly balls that were both caught on the warning track. She also grounded out with the bases loaded in the third.
The victory punctuated a remarkable 28-3 closing run for the Indians after they opened the season 5-6. Marengo lost to eventual third-place finisher Glenbard South 10-0 in six innings on April 9.
“It was right around that time we started to turn the season around,” Montgomery said. The Indians’ final three loses were each one-run games to large-school powers Elk Grove, Cary-Grove and 3A powerhouse Oak Forest.
“Our schedule really prepared us for these games,” Nance said.
Two outs away from losing in the seventh to Sycamore last Monday in the supersectional, the team rallied behind Montgomery and Grude. Now they hold the greatest prize.
“Sometimes, especially in a game like softball, you need to have some luck,” Montgomery said. “We’ve had that in the tournament, but we’ve also have a lot of great players that made the plays when we needed them.”