EAST PEORIA — Perhaps no other team entered the IHSA Class 3A State Finals as hot as Bishop McNamara, which defeated three Top-10 teams on its route to last weekend’s state tournament.
But victory wasn’t in the cards for the Irish, who ended their season with a 4-2 loss to Mt. Zion in Saturday’s IHSA Class 3A third-place game at Eastside Centre in East Peoria.
The loss ended the Irish’s season with a 28-10 record and fourth-place finish in Class 3A. For senior third baseman Gillian McDermott, although the immediate sting of ending things with a loss is there, so is the jubilation of just being at state.
“I was just happy to be down here and play for that first-place trophy,” McDermott said. “It didn’t go the way we wanted to, but we fought as hard as we could and gave it everything we had.”
The Irish struck first when Jaelyn Vickery scored on a Braves error in the first inning and had the potential for a monster inning. But that inning was ended on three outs that were all unconventional. Leigha Campe was questionably ruled to have hit a pitch while out of the batter’s box, while the other two Irish outs were made on the basepaths.
Irish coach Laura Harms said that much like Friday’s semifinal loss to Wheaton St. Francis that saw the Irish commit two first-inning errors, the team had just a few too many nerves at the start.
“We usually don’t have errors like [Friday]; we usually don’t have baserunning errors like [Saturday], but there’s a lot of pressure on a stage a lot of them never played on, a lot of nerves.,” Harms said. “I think we were ready to play, some things just didn’t go in our favor and we made some mistakes on the bases.”
The Braves quickly gained a 2-1 lead on a Dayna Kennedy two-run home run in the third inning, but the Irish were able to erase that lead in the bottom half of the frame and tie things at 2 on a Campe single.
Things remained tied until the fifth, when Kynzie Wrigley put the Braves back ahead with an RBI double. Kennedy hit her second homer of the contest in the seventh, a solo shot that just cleared the right field fence, to put the Irish down 4-2 entering the bottom of the seventh.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Irish opened the inning with the top of their lineup. After Vickery and Campe both flew out to left, McDermott, the Irish’s biggest offensive threat with 12 homeruns to her name this season, battled Braves pitcher Chayse Ramey in an 11 pitch at-bat that ended with a double in her final at-bat.
“I was very confident. ... You knew Gillian would have a great at-bat,” Harms said. “When I looked at her and said, ‘You’re good,’ she had that look like she wanted to cry but wasn’t going to cry, and then after a couple of pitches, she was settled in.”
Kylie Sullivan singled to put the tying run on base and send the potential winning run to the plate in Madi Bylak. But Bylak went down swinging to end the game and the Irish’s season.
Like McDermott, Vickery, another of the Irish’s four seniors, said that the pain of Saturday’s loss was present during the postgame trophy ceremony, but there was no reason for any long faces after such a stellar postseason run.
“We are the Fighting Irish and we fought all season, so I think we’re content,” Vickery said. “It stings a little bit, but we’ll get there.”
The trip to state was the third in Harms’ nine years at the helm for the Irish. She said that while the 2013 team, the lone state champion squad in program history, knew they had the talent to win a championship after an undefeated season, the 2019 version of the Irish had to scrap their way to East Peoria, a credit to both the team and Harms’ coaching staff.
“In 2013, it was kind of easy for us, we had that dominant pitching and an undefeated season,” Harms said. “We had some great players (this season), but we had to work a little harder to develop them into a team, people had to play positions they weren’t used to because they didn’t play that spot in travel ball.
“I feel like my staff is really good with the girls and we came together.”
And after beating a slew of powerhouse teams just to get to state, Harms’ final postgame message to her team was a simple one.
“I kept telling the girls, ‘Where’s Manteno, where’s Joliet Catholic, where’s Ottawa, where’s Pontiac? They’re at home,’” Harms said. “I think we have to understand that no one expected us to get here.
“In regionals and sectionals, we bought in as a team and that’s how we got here.”