Girls Softball: River Forest defeats La Grange for state crown
The River Forest 12-year-old all-star team hoists the banner after defeating La Grange 11-9 to win the state championship in Burbank on Tuesday night. | Photo courtesy of Dan Cekander
Updated: July 17, 2012 11:26PM
BURBANK — River Forest withstood a late rally and held on to defeat La Grange 11-9 to win the Little League Softball 11-12-year-old division state tournament Tuesday in Burbank.
Now it’s on to Indianapolis where River Forest will face teams from Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska and Kentucky beginning Saturday.
The victory was especially sweet — and nerve-racking — for Maeve Nelson, who came in to pitch in the fifth inning with her team ahead 11-3. The usually reliable Nelson, who started the game at shortstop, allowed five runs in one-third of an inning of work before starter Emily Cekander re-entered the game and gave up a run before she finally put an end to the six-run rally.
“I was starting to worry we were going to lose because I didn’t really pitch that well, and then I realized we had to win and go to regionals so we could stay in a hotel,” said Nelson, who just recently turned 12. “Once we got out of that inning I was really happy.”
Nelson said she thinks this all-star squad has a good chemistry after playing only a few games together, going undefeated in the state tourney with a 6-3 win over Beardstown and 5-3 nail-biter against LaGrange in their first meeting.
“I think our success comes from lots of practice and we all really like each other and enjoy playing together,” said Nelson, who admitted she spits in her glove often because she believes it will help prevent errors in the field. “When we play in Indianapolis, we just need keep playing our hardest. We all love the sport, and that can carry us a long way.”
Nelson (2-for-4, triple, double, 3 runs) and leadoff hitter Sydney Babbington (2-for-2, 2 walks, 2 runs) got River Forest off to a good start with back-to-back triples in the first as the team took advantage of some timely hitting and La Grange errors to score six runs in the top of the first inning. River Forest added a single run in the second and four more in the third when Lucy Jensen tripled home Grace Dorian, who was hit by a pitch, before Babbington singled her home and Nelson’s double drove in Babbington.
River Forest head coach Tim Ryan said he continues to be impressed with his team’s offense.
“Offensively they are a great, great team, and that was our game plan — to jump ahead early and keep the pressure off (pitcher) Emily (Cekander), who had a bit of a rough outing last game,” Ryan said. “Maeve came in and picked up the slack for us in the first game against La Grange, but they are a scrappy team and they went after her today. A couple hits and a couple walks turned into a big inning for them. The girls have been playing some great defense, too, and that really helped get us this victory. They are just a great bunch of kids. Anything we can do in Indy will just be icing on the cake.”
River Forest’s Maddie Guerrier contributed an RBI triple, while Cekander had a hit, an RBI and allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings of work. She struck out two and walked one.
It appeared La Grange might actually tie or go ahead in the game in the fifth when, after three runners had crossed the plate, Jessica Rotstein crushed a two-run triple to make the score 11-9. Cekander got out of the jam, however, with a pair of strikeouts, her only two of the game.
“I can’t be more proud of these girls. They came out to play with some real fire in the fifth inning and just scored a bunch of runs — it was a neighborhood team effort all the way,” La Grange coach Pete Hammon said. “They’re all from La Grange and LaGrange Park, they all go to school together, and they will all be moving on to the next league together as well.
“We had some bad luck, some bad hops, maybe a few jitters in the first inning, but River Forest hit the ball hard, and it was those little things that was the difference between getting out of the inning with just a couple of runs rather than six.”
LaGrange was led by Lauren Engels, who had a triple, a single and two runs batted in, while Carly Uhlir contributed a pair of hits, including a double. Kate Buemer scored twice and knocked a single, and Karli Artale came off the bench and delivered a two-run triple in the fifth.
River Forest is scheduled to play Indianapolis at 7 p.m. Saturday, Missouri at 5 p.m. Monday, Nebraska at 5 p.m. Tuesday and Kentucky at 5 p.m. Wednesday.River Forest opened play in the state tournament by beating Beardstown, 6-3, Saturday and La Grange, 5-3, Sunday.
The River Forest 10-year-old all-star softball team beat Melrose Park 8-2 to win the district championship Saturday.
River Forest will now compete in the sectional tournament, beginning Saturday in Mundelein.
River Forest, which is managed by Derek Briggs, consists of Kaitlyn Beltrame, Lizzie Bernstein, Katie Bonaccorsi, Sadie Briggs, Ali Burns, Patti Cesarini, Libby Christian, Fiona Girardot, Cia Gladden, Haley Gladden, Nicole Perla, Lily Reardon, Mia Reynes and Carli Tucci.
Ken Ryan contributed to this story.