During the past three seasons, no pitcher in the state of Illinois has known winning as well as Beecher’s Kayla Hon, as she entered Saturday’s IHSA Class 2A State Championship against Pinckneyville with a 15-1 career postseason record.
Hon celebrated a sweet 16th postseason victory Saturday, when she threw a two-hit shutout to lead the Bobcats to an 8-0 victory in East Peoria, earning the team a state championship trophy.
The championship is the fourth in program history and second in three years. Hon was the winning pitcher for the past two titles, and her only career postseason loss came in last year’s title game, sending the Olivet Nazarene University commit and her fellow seniors off on the highest of notes.
“It’s cool to think that when we look in the gym and see the banners, we’re part of three of them now,” Hon said of the Bobcats two championships and one second-place finish over the past three years. “I’m just very happy we went out this way. It’s the cherry on top of our senior year.”
The game’s first hitter, Pinckneyville’s Kiya Hagene, opened up the contest with a bloop single. But after that, Hon was lights out. She retired the next 16 batters that she faced, with a Kenzie Prest double in the sixth the only other Panther to reach base.
Even in an utterly dominant performance, the always-humble Hon didn’t think she had her best stuff Saturday. She said that her signature riseball didn’t have the typical movement it did, which meant going to her changeup more often.
“I did throw my changeup a lot more today,” Hon said. “[The riseball] wasn’t spinning as much, so we went to something else a little bit and it all worked out.”
Bobcats coach Kevin Hayhurst, who has coached the Bobcats to all four of their championships, had to disagree with his ace and said that Hon was as brilliant as ever. That was evidenced by her 10 strikeouts, which was her fifth double-digit strikeout effort of the postseason and 14th of the entire year.
“She just wants to be perfect, I think her riseball was pretty darn good,” Hayhurst said. “It had good late movement and she threw that changeup to mix it up and change speeds.
“She’s a crafty pitcher that doesn’t light up the radar gun, but just shows that you can rack up the strikeouts with late movement.”
While Hon was busy striking out Panthers, her teammates were preoccupied with pushing runs across the plate. They managed to score a run without recording a hit in the first inning before they got rolling in the second inning and scored three runs.
That offensive performance was spearheaded by a pair of juniors at the top of the order — Margaret Landis and Christina Lorenzatti. Landis went 3-for-3 with a triple and a walk, while Lorenzatti went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk, with both girls scoring twice and driving in a run apiece.
“It felt great,” Landis said of the top-of-the-order performance. “I just made sure I got a lot of pitches and made sure they pitched to me.”
For Lorezatti, the season’s culmination in a state championship has been a new experience. While her classmates have known nothing but state championship appearances, this season was Lorenzatti’s first with the Bobcats after transferring from Marian Catholic.
“It made me really nervous at first because I wasn’t used to the atmosphere,” Lorenzatti said. “But it’s been incredible to be around girls that are so motivated and hard-working. The dedication was completely there the whole season.”
After a scoreless third, the Bobcats doubled their lead to 8-0 with a four-run outburst in the fourth, highlighted by a two-run single from A.J. Picicco and an RBI double from Karly Bainbridge.
It was after that fourth inning barrage that Hayhurst knew his fourth state title was going to be coming back home to Beecher.
“I felt pretty darn good when we had an eight run lead with Kayla Hon on the mound,” Hayhurst said. “I’ve been around to know that in the past three years, she’s only lost one postseason game, which is just incredible.
“When you’ve got an eight run lead with her, you feel pretty comfortable.”
When the Bobcats exited the dugout for the last time and took the field in the top of the seventh, Hon walked out with a sheepish grin on her face, a rare showing of emotion.
She said that she couldn’t help but crack a smile knowing that another championship was just around the corner.
“I was pretty confident going into the last inning up by eight runs,” Hon said. “I knew it would be very difficult for [Pinckneyville], so I just knew we would be able to end it in an exciting way.”
The win came less than 24 hours after the Bobcats held off Rockridge, the team that defeated them in last year’s championship, by a 5-4 score. Landis said having to earn their win the hard way Saturday didn’t exhaust all of their energy like it would with some teams, but rather gave them the last spark they needed to put a bow, and a state championship medal, on the season.
“It felt really great because we had a tough game yesterday,” Landis said. “It made us make sure we didn’t come into this game today too confident like we did last year.”