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Villa Grove softball heading to state for first time: 'We're making history'

May 28—BLOOMINGTON — Villa Grove softball coach Jeana Block has an important day ahead of her this upcoming Saturday.

That's the day of the Class 1A state championship and third-place games, one of which her Blue Devils will be playing in after beating Serena 5-2 in eight innings on Monday at Inspiration Field on the Illinois Wesleyan University for a super-sectional title.

But some family members likely won't be in attendance.

"Our goal was June 1," Block said of her expectations coming into the season. "I have a family wedding June 1, and I said, 'I'm hoping I can't make it.'"

She's getting her wish with Villa Grove (24-13-1) continuing its run as one of the hottest teams in the state, winners of 17 games in the last 19 tries, now heading to the state finals for the first time in program history.

"I'm a little wound up right now," Block said right after receiving the team's first-ever super-sectional plaque. "We started the season knowing we had a solid team. I'm just so happy for the girls. They've worked hard all year."

Even though this group has done something no other Villa Grove softball team has before, the road has looked awfully familiar to the seniors. This year's senior class — Chloe Reardon, Alison Pangburn, Kayln Cordes, Logan Lillard, Alexandria Brown and Addisyn Wilson — went to state four years ago as eighth-graders, and they had to beat LeRoy and Serena to get there.

The Blue Devils exacted revenge on LeRoy with a 3-2 win in last Saturday's sectional championship, one year after the eventual 1A third-place Panthers ousted them in the sectional semifinals. Villa Grove then bested Serena (22-8) in one of the more thrilling games of the season on Monday.

"My seniors have been dialed in that this is familiar and they've done this before," Block said.

One of those seniors is Brown, who pitched a complete-game shutout in the sectional semifinal and then earned two more complete-game victories against LeRoy and Serena.

"I just know my defense has my back," Brown said. "If I let the batters hit it, I know my defense will get me up."

Monday's game was a pitchers' duel for the first five innings. Brown tossed all eight innings for Villa Grove with seven strikeouts while only allowing five hits. The Huskers' only two runs came when they hit back-to-back doubles in the third inning.

The only problem was the Blue Devils couldn't get their offense going.

Serena pitcher Maddie Glade was even more effective than Brown in the game's early stages, with Pangburn's second-inning double and Hayden Thomas' fifth-inning single being Villa Grove's only baserunners of the day to that point.

"When we got down early in the season, we liked to fold, and we talked about keeping your composure and playing your game," Block said. "(Serena) made some unbelievable plays, and I said, 'Keep putting it in play. Eventually, it'll fall. That's how it works.' Once we started putting the ball in play a little bit more, things fell our way."

The sixth inning started with Reardon drawing a walk. Cordes followed with a bloop single that fell behind first base, bringing Brown to the plate.

"I was telling myself to hit the middle of the ball and focus on just getting a base hit," Brown said. "Nothing special, just get on base. That's all we needed."

Then, Brown connected on a pitch and drove it to the right-center-field wall for a double, scoring Reardon and Cordes to tie the game at 2.

Sophomore Piper Kiser stepped into the batter's box with one out and a runner on first base in the top of the eighth inning. The Blue Devils' No. 3 hitter in the batting order was due at that point, having flown out and walked in her first three plate appearances.

"I was just thinking barrel at that point. Just a base hit to move them around, maybe a double," Kiser said. "They threw me a pitch, and I took it oppo. It felt good off the bat."

And it sailed over the fence in right-center field.

A no-doubt two-run home run that gave Villa Grove a 4-2 lead.

"As soon as I saw the ball hit the bat, I said, 'Let's go. We're set. We can do it from here,'" Brown said.

Thomas added an RBI single two batters later for good measure, and Brown took care of business one last time in the circle to make it official. For the first time in program history, Villa Grove is heading to state.

"I'm just happy to keep moving forward, and I'm excited for what's next," Brown said. "In the end, we're making history for our small school, and I'm proud to be a Villa Grove Blue Devil."

Block told her players Monday morning that this game would set them apart. They had already played a great season, winning the program's second sectional title and the first since 2019, but winning this game would make them one of one. Anything afterwards would be a bonus.

The Blue Devils will play for that bonus at 10 a.m. on Friday at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria against AlWood (29-5-1), with Trico and Illini Bluffs set to compete on the other side of the bracket. The winners will meet the next day for a state championship, and the losers will play for third place.

"I grew up in Casey, and I played in a lot of state tournaments," Block said. "I watched my daughter win a junior high state title there as a seventh-grader. Now as a coach, it's my first time, and this might be the best one."