The four members of Beecher’s softball team’s senior class hardly have experienced anything but success. After bowing out of the IHSA postseason in the sectional round as freshman in 2016, the Bobcats reached the IHSA Class 2A State Championships, winning it all in 2017 and again Saturday.
Senior cleanup hitter and third baseman Ellie Lee said that means the senior quartet of herself, pitcher Kayla Hon, catcher A.J. Picicco and second baseman Chandler Claus will have something to cherish forever.
“It’s a really good feeling to know that we all came to state together,” Lee said. “We’re known, and that’s something we’re going to cherish for the rest of our lives.”
The seniors ended their careers with a record of 134-16 and two titles. For Claus, who missed her junior year with a shoulder injury, the class’s legacy began way before they entered high school.
“I’ve been playing with them since I was 6 years old, so finishing out with them is special,” Claus said. “It’s emotional.”
The Bobcats came into the 2019 season with a boulder-sized chip on their shoulder after Rockridge denied them their second-straight championship, besting the Bobcats 5-2 in the 2018 title game.
That same Rockets squad is who the Bobcats drew in this year’s semifinal, a game Beecher won 5-4. Hon, who pitched in each of the Bobcats’ three title game appearances the past three years, said the team made the necessary mental adjustments during the weekend to do what they went to East Peoria for — a first-place trophy.
“We went into it with the wrong mindset last year,” Hon said. “This year, it was nice to come in with the right mindset and show them what we’re made of.”
That mindset carried over into Saturday, where the Bobcats’ 8-0 victory against Pinckneyville gave them the trophy they so badly sought.
“We knew what we wanted to get done, and we came into this game knowing we had to hit and had to field,” Lee said. “And that’s what we did.”
When the Bobcats took the field for the final time for the seventh inning of Saturday’s game, wide smiles were plastered on the face of nearly every player, but especially the battery of Hon and Picicco, who have been a pitcher-catcher duo for most of their softball careers.
Picicco said the emotions that stemmed from the thought of that being the duo’s last inning together was too special to not be ecstatic about, especially with Hon having such a dominant performance — allowing two hits and striking out 10 in a shutout.
“Just knowing that was my last inning with Kayla, it was such a great way to go out,” Picicco said. “She had so many strikeouts and had such a great last game.”
For coach Kevin Hayhurst, the seniors’ two titles make up just half of the four he has won in his 17-year career. He said having such stellar groups of girls such as this group of seniors is what has made the program so successful and what will continue to keep it that way.
“They’re Beecher softball,” Hayhurst said. “All the younger kids come to the games and sit in the crowd, and you see the excitement on their faces.
“Our kids are really special, and if they come through the program for four years, they contribute greatly.”