RANTOUL — For the first time this season, the Paris Lady Tiger softball team just culdn’t get their offense rolling as they fell to the Mt. Zion Lady Braves in the IHSA Class 3A regional championship game Saturday, May 25, at Wabash Park in Rantoul.
As Paris strolled into the park for the game against an old Apollo Conference foe in Mt. Zion, the odds were arguably stacked against them. The Lady Braves returned all but one starter from their state finals fourth-place team from 2018.
The Lady Tigers, meanwhle, just missed this year’s ClassAA cutoff and were one of the smallest schools in Class 3A.
Paris (28-3) put up a fight but was eventually ousted 4-0 by Mt. Zion (27-4-1), who clinched their second-straight regional championship in the process.
The Lady Brave pitching ace Audrey Eades shut down a Tiger offense that hadn’t been shutout all season entering Saturday’s game, allowing just three hits while striking out 13 batters.
Lady Tiger freshman pitcher Karley Moore held her own in allowing three earned runs off of six hits.
With many Paris players emotion after the game following the loss, Coach Jeremy Clodfelder hoped his team’s frustration on Saturday would lead to a hunger for redemption in future seasons.
“I don’t like to see it, but when you see the anger and the disappointment in our girls, it shows that this matters to them,” Clodfelder said. “What you try to focus on after that is the year you had — and not letting that one game at the end of the year define your season.”
Both pitchers quickly made work of early lineups while minimizing their pitch counts.
As the innings passed, it became a matter of which team was going to break through first.
Mt. Zion answered the call.
Shortstop Kynzie Wrigley cleared the bases with a two-out, two-run homer to left field in the bottom of the third inning, a massive moment that put the Lady Braves in the driver’s seat the rest of the way.
Two more insurance runs were tacked on in the sixth as designated player Abby Bruner scored on a fielder’s choice, while third baseman Isabel Shafer raced home from second on the same play after an error by the Tiger infield.
Clodfelder, meanwhile, said his his team struggled to get on base against Eades, he took a small-ball approach of bunting and forcing Mt. Zion to field the ball.
Clodfelder also credited Eades for making his batters work and eliminating base running opportunities.
“Even down 2-0, I thought we didn’t flinch much,” Clodfelder said. “I thought we just had to keep on doing what we do and unfortunately it just didn’t work out. The pitcher is really solid, she gets you on a full count...and then she strikes you out whether you’re chasing or looking.”
Clodfelder thinks that with a young core group of players — just two starters played their last game for Paris Saturday — brighter days are ahead for the Tiger softball program.
A move to Class 2A next year also helps, he said, as Paris will be playing schools closer to their size in the postseason.
“Not that 2A is any easier...but right now the message is to enjoy the year that you had,” Clodfelder said. “We’ll get refocused and we’ll be ready to go again next year. If any message has been sent, I think that this program has grown into a contender and we can compete with the best of them.”