By David Sharp
Illinois defense, pitching and timely hitting were key to the Illinois All Stars sweeping the Missouri side in the 12th Annual Illinois vs. Missouri Senior Softball Salute, held July 5, 2015 at the Harry Phillips Field in Quincy, Illinois.
Illinois hurlers Hannah Dewitt (Griggsville-Perry HS) and Lexi Dooley (West Hancock HS) limited the Missouri All Stars to three runs and seven hits on the day.
Illinois won the first of two games by a 4-1 margin. Quincy Notre Dame product Aryiel Gengenbacher drove in the game’s first run with a two out, second inning single.
Hannah Dewitt singled leading off the Illinois fourth inning and scored when Leah Rohrer (Brown County HS) singled. Missouri pitcher Lauren Dale (Knox County HS) was charged with an error on the play, allowing Illinois a 2-0 lead.
Lauren Dale was one of the stars of the day, pitching a complete seven inning game with six strikeouts on six hits in game one. Dale hurled the final five innings of game two, blanking Illinois on one hit.
“They got timely hits, and we struggled to find timely hits,” Lauren Dale said. “You have to be able to get the job done. They got the job done tonight.”
“We had a few hits, a few of them timely but not enough to put runners in scoring position at all times and get runs scored.”
Knox County all stater Shanna Elder tripled leading off the Missouri fourth inning and scored on a one out Avery Johnson (Highland HS) sac fly for a 2-1 Illinois edge after four frames.
Division I softball signee Jenny Polak (Quincy Notre Dame HS) doubled leading off the Illinois seventh. Aryiel Gengenbacher reached on an error. Sidnee Sawyer of West Hancock HS doubled in two runs for a 4-1 lead.
Hannah Dewitt struck out five Missouri batters in seven innings pitched, picking up the game one win. Illinois scored four runs on six hits.
Missouri scored one run on four hits. “Not knowing your opponent can go either way,” Illinois coach Samantha Valentine said. Neither side expressed much knowledge of their opponent after the contests.
“It was a lot like traveling ball,” Avery Johnson said. “You just try to get through the lineup once, see what they were going to do and be ready for it.”
“Half the team didn’t touch a bat since October,” Lauren Dale said. “It is a big advantage for Avery (Johnson) and I to be on the field. We are kind of conditioned to softball.”
“We just hit the ball. We found those holes,” Samantha Valentine said. “It worked out well for us, but it could have easily went the other way too.”
Samantha Valentine coached a Brown County team that won 21 games during the Illinois spring softball season.
Two time Highland HS all stater Avery Johnson faced West Hancock’s Lexi Dooley in the circle in game two. Dooley pitched around a two out Avery Johnson hit in the top of the first inning.
Illinois had two consecutive hits leading off their first inning. Josie Finch (Illini West HS) and Katie Schafer (West Hancock HS) scored for a two run lead. Shafer drove Finch home with a hit. Shafer scored on a wild pitch.
Leah Rohrer plated Shelby White (Illini West) with a two out hit. An error prolonged the opening inning.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Highland’s Avery Johnson said. “It was exciting to go out and play some different people. I pitched a long time. I missed it. I thought I was done before now.”
“It kind of came back again. I’m excited that I am going to just be focused on an infield position or an outfield position. After doing it for so long, I am just ready to try something different.”
Missouri scored both their runs in the second inning. Lauren Dale drew a leadoff walk. Casey Hinkle (Highland HS) singled. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch.
Brittney Berhorst (Canton HS) plated Dale with a ground out. Chloe Majors (Mark Twain HS) drove Hinkle home with a two out hit. Illinois answered when Albany, New York signee Jenny Polak tripled and scored on Josie Finch’s sac fly.
Illinois led 4-2 after two innings. Truman State University softball recruit Lauren Dale got better as the day progressed. Dale pitched 12 innings in her first complete game pitching action since having her pitching elbow surgically repaired.
“Our pitchers were great today,” Samantha Valentine said. “We had solid defense. I’m glad we got ahead as soon as we did in that second game. We really didn’t hit the ball that well, and if we did it was right at somebody.”
Jenny Polak was the only Illinois player to record a hit in the final four innings of game one. Casey Hinkle had the only Missouri hit in their last five innings.
Missouri had chances to move runners and score after the second inning, but couldn’t get the big hit when they needed it. Illinois ended the Missouri fourth with a double play.
“It was an honor to be asked to coach this,” Missouri head softball coach Becky Barnhill said.
“Especially to watch my three girls play one more time. Just to see the best seniors in the area come together and play softball was a fun experience.”
Knox County had all staters Lauren Dale, Shanna Elder and 2013 all stater Paige Couch on the field along with assistant coach Lance McMahon. The Lady Eagles earned Coach Barnhill the coaching gig with three of their best softball seasons in school history from 2012 to 2014.
Highland high school was represented by coaches Paul Scifres and Ronnie Richardson.
Two time all stater Avery Johnson (Culver-Stockton College softball) along with four year starter Casey Hinkle and Karley Smith played representing two time defending district champion Highland.
All conference first baseman Jessica Roberts represented Clark County. Roberts played most of the 2014-15 season with ligament damage in her right hand.
Jessica Roberts won the seventh place Class 3 discus medal this spring.
“We didn’t get to practice a whole lot because of the rain,” Becky Barnhill said. “The girls blended together in spite of their rivalries. I think they really did a good job today.”
“I knew from the beginning that we would have problems pitching,” Barnhill said. “Jessica Roberts was unable to pitch due to injury. Avery Johnson will concentrate on playing the infield and batting for the Wildcats.
“I knew that if we needed (Lauren Dale) to step up she would. And she did,” Becky Barnhill said. “She pitched really well in the first game. In the second game, we asked her to just let her defense do the work.”
“They played well, but if you think about Illinois just coming off their season and some of our girls playing traveling ball and some are not,” Barnhill said. “Illinois got key hits when they needed to. They played tough defense.”
“I thought we played pretty good defense. We were coming off not playing for eight months. We popped a lot of stuff up,” Becky Barnhill said. “We didn’t get key hits when we needed to.”
Illinois scored four runs on five hits in the second game. Lexi Dooley pitched a complete game, striking out three of her 27 batters faced on three walks and four hits. Both Missouri runs were earned.
Jennie Polak was 2-2 for Illinois with a triple and a run scored. Missouri scored two runs on four hits. Avery Johnson started the game for Missouri and took the loss.
Avery Johnson pitched two innings, allowing four runs on four hits. Johnson fanned three of her 14 batters faced with two walks.
Lauren Dale pitched the final four innings striking out three of her 14 batters faced on one hit and no walks. “I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it seven innings,” Lauren Dale said. It did give me a little confidence.”
“I don’t know if being able to throw my first seven innings (since elbow surgery) was a mental help, or a confidence booster,” Lauren Dale said. “I can be semi successful with as much as I have thrown this summer.”
“They definitely took advantage of our mistakes,” Lauren Dale said. “I had a walk that scored and there was an error that scored. You have to limit that number of walks, and maybe that score would be different.”
“It was great that I could play with my teammates from high school,” Dale said. “That is going to be one of the things that I miss the most. My high school friends and my high school teammates. There’s nothing like them.”
“Getting to play one last time with Shanna, Paige, Coach Barnhill and Lance was great. I love having them in the dugout. I have played so much softball with them that I can trust them,” Lauren Dale said. “I have faith in them.”
Casey Hinkle got a hit in what may be her final high level softball at bat. Hinkle will attend the University of Missouri on an Academic Scholarship. Hinkle was 2-3 with a run scored in game two.