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Late rally comes up short in state semifinal loss for Villa Grove softball

Jun. 1—PEORIA — Villa Grove softball's signature late-game push was happening again. The Blue Devils won their super-sectional game on Monday in comeback fashion to make the state tournament for the first time in program history. Now that they're on the state's biggest stage, nothing has changed.

Going into the sixth inning of their Class 1A state semifinal game against AlWood on Friday at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex, the Blue Devils trailed 4-0 and had only mustered three baserunners, but they were about to double that during this turn at bat thanks to a trio of seniors.

Kaylyn Cordes drew a one-out walk to get it started, and Alex Brown followed with a sharply hit ball that was too much to handle for AlWood third baseman Mackenzie Peck. Two batters later, Alison Pangburn laced a single into center field, and Cordes came around to score.

She didn't realize it at the time, but Pangburn's hit brought home Villa Grove's first run in state tournament history. Once she learned, though, she just laughed and shrugged it off.

"It was just a hit," Pangburn said. "I just got a flat pitch, so I took advantage of it."

Cordes, who also tallied the team's first hit back in the third inning, had a similar reaction to having the honor of scoring the first run. "

"It's pretty amazing," Cordes said.

That wound up being the only run the Blue Devils put on the board, as they fell 4-1 to the Spartans to end their state title hopes.

While a title is now off the table, Villa Grove (25-13-1) is making school history with everything it does this weekend.

The goal from the first day of the season was to be playing on the last day, and this group has accomplished that.

"We have to remember that we've never gotten this far, so anything extra is a bonus," Pangburn said. "Even though we lost, we still have third in mind, so we've got to forget about this game and do what we can do."

"It's amazing how far we've come," Cordes added. "Just keep fighting and keep making history. No matter where we place, we know we've come far and we've done great."

The Blue Devils knew winning this semifinal game was a tall task, largely because of AlWood senior pitcher Mya Brown, who struck out 18 batters in the super-sectional and had amassed more than 800 strikeouts in her career. She retired 12 Blue Devils on strikes on Friday, with Cordes, Alex Brown and Pangburn the only ones to record a hit against the Spartans (31-5), who play Illini Bluffs at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday in the state title game.

"Typically, our first time through the lineup, no matter who we play, we don't hit great," Villa Grove coach Jeana Block said. "The second time through, we usually see the ball pretty well. No doubt, (Brown) is a great pitcher. Was it a shock? No. I knew this wasn't going to be a girl we'd hit very well, but we put the ball in play and got a few hits, so I'm proud of them for that."

It's not often Villa Grove sees a pitcher outduel Alex Brown in the circle, and she was still just a couple pitches away from keeping the Spartans scoreless. Alex Brown gave up a two-run home run in the first inning to Mya Brown after being one strike away from ending the inning in that at-bat and the one before. Alex Brown was also one strike away from ending the fourth inning in back-to-back at-bats before they both ended in RBI singles. Brown also had four uncharacteristic walks, but seven strikeouts contributed to another quality performance overall.

"Alex is just a competitor," Block said. "She came through as much as we could ask of her. We probably could have made a few more plays and played a little better behind her, but I'm very proud of her."

Brown kept AlWood from widening its lead any further in the last three innings, and that's also when the Blue Devils started their comeback effort.

"We know when we need to fight," Cordes said. "We normally start off slow and pick it up in the end. We know when we need to fight, and we know when to pick each other up."

Villa Grove's historic season won't end with a state championship. But the Blue Devils still have an opportunity to take home a trophy and spend the bus ride home celebrating.

"There's nothing to be upset about," Block said. "From day one, we've talked about wanting to play on June 1. We can definitely compete for third place. Two teams in Class 1A will get to end their season on a win. Let's be one of them."