EAST PEORIA – The first-ever state tournament run for Nazareth’s softball team ended in a fourth-place Class 3A finish, but also had a final dose of late-season drama.
“These girls made history – I’m so proud of them,” Nazareth second-year coach Emily Matthews said. “We don’t have superstars, but when they play together collectively they can do special things.”
Another special chapter nearly came in the June 9 state semifinal against eventual Class 3A champion Marengo. While the Roadrunners (31-8-1) eventually fell 1-0 on Marengo's two-out walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the seventh, both Gloria Corona and Jeanine Mantooth (seventh-inning double) reached third base with potential game-changing runs for Nazareth in the final two innings.
Nazareth pitcher Devyn Zuro allowed just four hits (with two walks and seven strikeouts) in the setback.
Then in the state third-place game against Rochester June 10, Nicole Robinson’s tiebreaking two-out, two-RBI single sparked a three-run fourth inning that made the difference in the Rockets’ 3-0 win.
Nazareth threatened with two runners on in the fifth (including a Julia Dallman single) and then loaded the bases in the sixth (on a C.J. Mardirosian single and two walks), but each chance was denied.
“At the end of the day we didn’t make the adjustments on the offensive side,” Matthews said. "That's why you saw two zeros on the board this weekend."
But the Roadrunners went down fighting.
“Even though we lost twice [at state], it was a great experience,” Zuro said. “We played well. I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year.”
Zuro (38 RBIs) and Mardirosian (five home runs) each hit over .450 to lead the Roadrunners this spring, with leadoff hitter Corona, Taylor Gipson and Krystal Levitske also leading a strong senior nucleus.
“Especially as a senior, to end it at state down in Peoria for the first time in program history – it’s an honor to be part of such a good program,” Mardirosian said.
“The coaching staff made us believe we don’t need specific people, just a team that comes together and works together.”
That teamwork produced a 16-game winning streak that ended in the semifinal, and began from adversity.
“We got beat really bad by Andrew [14-3 on April 25],” Zuro said. “After the game coach said you have to decide if you want to go up, or if this is going to be it. After that we came together and got so much closer, and it showed on the field.”
“We really became a family after that,” Mardirosian said. “We had one ultimate goal in mind, to make it to Peoria.
“It’s bittersweet that this is our last game together. Yes it’s a loss, but it’s a state loss. We’re the fourth best in state – we take a lot of pride in that.”
Nazareth was on the cusp of making state last year before a supersectional loss. The Roadrunners made it happen this year even after losing some key pieces.
“Last year losing three or four seniors, if you had told me we’d be here [at state] I wouldn’t have believed it,” Zuro said.
Juniors Dallman and Emily Zalewski and sophomore Jordan Barnes (36 RBIs) figure to lead the next wave of talent.
“It’s great experience for [the underclassmen],” Matthews said of state. “We have a lot of shoes to fill next year, without question, but the experience you get here – now we’ve been there and we know what it’s like. Now we want to get over the next hump.”