MORRIS – After a turbulent regular season that saw the Morris Redskins peak at 15-1 before faltering down the stretch and finishing 6-4 in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East, coach Jen Lowery viewed the postseason as a clean slate.
As the host of a Class 3A regional tournament, the top-seeded Redskins managed to put their rocky finish behind them and claim their first regional championship since 2006 after a win over Sandwich on May 27 and a thrilling 2-1 victory over Ottawa in the championship game on Saturday.
“All along, we knew we were resilient,” Lowery said. “So the girls came in this week with a whole new mentality for regionals and we told them it’s a new season.
“We wanted to erase the last three weeks and just start fresh the way we did at the beginning of the season.”
The Redskins (20-8) were able to do exactly that Saturday, as they jumped out to an early lead when sophomore catcher Emily Moore led off the second inning with a single before eventually coming around to score on a sacrifice fly by senior left fielder Kellen Bernickus.
Meanwhile, in the circle, freshman Abby Burns was able keep Ottawa off-balance consistently, holding the Pirates to one run on six hits while stranding eight baserunners on the day. It was an impressive performance on what was undoubtedly the largest stage of her young career.
“Mentally, she’s doesn’t really seem like a freshman. She’s really composed out on the mound,” Lowery said of her young hurler. “She performs well under pressure, and she got us out of some tight spots when we really needed her to today.”
Ottawa managed to put a runner in scoring position with less than two outs in the first, third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings, but only managed an unearned run in the fourth inning off Burns.
“I always feel the pressure being the pitcher, especially against these really good teams with kids that are going to college next year to play softball,” Burns said. “But with my team – they’re great, so that helps ease my mind out there.”
After an Ottawa run in the fourth tied the game, Morris immediately responded with a run of their own to retake the lead.
Senior first baseman Alex Cook led off the bottom of the inning with a double into the left-field corner and a single by Burns would advance pinch-runner Janelle Brehm to third. From there, senior shortstop Leah Lines’ RBI groundout to first scored the run that eventually proved to be the winner for the Redskins.
“At this point in the season, being able to manufacture runs out there is huge. We do need to hit more, but we executed when we had to today and that’s what won us the game,” Lowery said.
Morris will play Tinley Park at 4:30 p.m. today in the Manteno Sectional.