BaseballEAST PEORIA – It wasn’t the outcome the Lady Hornets were looking for when they got to the Illinois High School Association State Softball Finals, but their efforts allowed them to claim 4th place in Class 1A after dropping a 6-3 decision to Princeville in the consolation game at Eastside Centre here on June 3.

Princeville Wins 6-3; Heyworth Takes 4th In Class 1A: Witnessed by 300 fans, the consolation game between the Lady Hornets and the Lady Princes was scoreless for four innings, both squads’ defense having their say. Then, in the top half of the fifth inning, Heyworth (22-12) got started with a single up the middle from right fielder Madison Riley. After second baseman Alexandra Williams flied out to Princeville catcher Molly Davis for Heyworth’s first out, left fielder Maddie Quattro singled and advanced to second base on an error by Davis.

With runners at second and third, Riley scored on a single by shortstop Ashley McKinney, giving Heyworth a 1-0 lead. Next, Hornets first baseman Somer Marlett singled and advanced to second on a poor Princeville throw while McKinney and Quattro scored, increasing the Lady Hornets’ lead to 3-0. Heyworth catcher Maddie Sims and pitcher Adyson Slayback ended the inning by lining out and striking out, respectfully.

Heyworth HornetsPrinceville (26-9) countered in the bottom of the fifth inning, as with one out, a single to left field by center fielder Chloe Lane advanced second baseman Natalie Cokel to second after having been walked. A shot into center field by third baseman Caitlin Pullen moved her from first to second on the defensive throw, scoring Cokel, 1-0, while Lane moved to third. Lane scored on a fielder’s choice increasing the lead, 3-2, and moved Pullen to third. Princeville shortstop Jessica DeVries singled and stole second giving Pullen a chance to score, tying the game at 3-3.

Princeville first baseman Madison Roe’s triple scored DeVries, putting the Lady Princes in front, 4-3. A single by pitcher Haley Holt scored Roe, upping the lead to 5-3. Heyworth went down in order in the bottom of the sixth inning when center fielder D’Laney Gardner, shortstop Paige Schiffman, and right fielder Madison Riley went out in order.

Princeville tacked on another run in the bottom of the sixth inning, making Princeville’s lead, 6-3, as Cokel scored to lead off the inning having gotten to second on a wild pitch by Heyworth’s Slayback and scored on a Lane single. In the top of the seventh, Holt sat down Williams, Quattro, and McKinney to prevent a Hornets rally.

Holt (23-6) was the winning pitcher for Princeville while Slayback (15-8) took the loss.

Heyworth head coach George VanWinkle choked up a little as he talked about media members afterward, wiping a tear or two after the team received their trophy and medallions from tourney officials for their efforts.

“A good team beat us today, that’s all you can say,” VanWinkle said. “I’m just tickled to death that we’re here. These kids…the seniors especially, have been with me since they were in sixth grade.” VanWinkle struggled to hold his emotions in check while talking about the girls he’s been coaching for that long.

McKinney said she felt good about the fact she and her teammates made it to State, but added, “Also though, it’s a sad time because my days of playing softball are over.”

“We felt a little more confident going into this game than on Friday against Goreville,” explained Gardner. “But some games don’t always end the way you want them to. Both McKinney and Gardner have plans to attend Heartland Community College this fall.

IHSALosing To Goreville, 11-0, In Semis Sent Hornets To Consolation Game: The Hornets’ optimism toward playing in the championship game got dashed fairly quickly on June 2 as the opponents from Goreville, a community roughly 90 minutes from the Illinois-Kentucky line, blanked the Lady Hornets, 11-0. As a crowd of 550 fins watched, the Blackcats crossed Heyworth’s path first for a home run off of Slayback in the top of the third inning when first baseman Camren Anderson launched a pitch over the fence in deep left field to help her team take a 1-0 lead. Then, to lead off the top of the fourth inning, designated player Macy Goins singled, which began what turned out to be a long frustrating defensive half-inning for Heyworth.

Goreville (25-8) added six runs while the Lady Hornets accounted for two of their three errors in the contest by that point. The Blackcats went on to score one more run in the sixth inning and another two in the seventh inning to round out their scoring effort. With the victory, Blackcats pitcher Cheyenne Walker increased her record to 12-3, while Slayback finished with a 15-7 mark.

Regarding the semifinal, VanWinkle said, “The reality is, we got beat by a really good team. It’s not that we played that poorly. They just flat out beat us.”

“I was really upset, but what can you do?” Slayback said of that loss. “I’m very glad we had the chance to make it to State with these girls. They were amazing.”

By Steve Robinson | May 29, 2017 - 10:05 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

BaseballWith Cubs great Ryne Sandberg coming to The Corn Crib on Sunday, May 28 to coach third base for the ‘Belters against Frontier League opponent Lake Erie, and then meet, greet, and sign autographs for fans, you would expect a large crowd for the occasion. And there was one – a total of 3,525 faithful showed up to get a chance to see the one-time Cubs second baseman and third baseman give directions and encouragement to guys trying to either get into or back to the minors thanks to a shot with the CornBelters.

And the autograph line stretched from the entrance to Suite 201 at the ballpark, where Sandberg awaited the folks — all the way to the very first concession stand nearest the stair entrance that leads to the parking lot, a distance I would guess is about 250 feet. I met up with some folks, one before she entered the ballpark, and one in line, who both had interesting stories of their own growing up Cubs fans and looking forward to a chance to meet the guy who fans came to know simply as “Ryno.”

CornbeltersFor Bethany Theobald, being a Cubs fan who grew up in enemy territory (aka St. Louis), “We would go to at least one game at Busch Stadium in full Cubs gear and take pictures at the St. Louis Zoo, which, of course, got us a couple of funny looks..”

“We did this for years from when we were young until we were 17,” Theobald, now 34, said. She carried a sweatshirt and a couple of Sandberg baseball cards she said were part of her collection and in better shape than the bulk of the cards she had saved over the years. She wanted to get the two 1985 Sandberg cards signed.

The second person I saw that really intrigued me was in line to get a second base bag signed. Paul Slack, an Ottawa resident made the trip down to The Corn Crib with his wife, Shelli and his teenage daughter to get the mission accomplished. The base was purchased at a Cubs game during which Major League Baseball was selling game-used merchandise. Slack bought the bag at a Cubs game against Cincinnati on Aug. 12, 2012.

“I made the decision to buy the base in hopes Ryne Sandberg would sign it for me,” Slack said. The base isn’t the only item in Slack’s collection, it turns out. His basement man-cave at his two-story home is all-Cubs, the majority of it a shrine to Sandberg. He has more than a few items personally autographed by the guy who spent a career defending either second or third base.

Frontier League“I told my wife she could have the rest of the house, but to just give me the basement” for the extensive collection, Slack said. He has other items Sandberg has signed for him in the past, mostly when he was managing the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League in 2007 and 2008 before the Cubs moved him to the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League in 2009. From there, Sandberg was promoted again to manage the Triple-A Iowa Cubs for a single season in 2010, which was followed by managing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs of the International League for two years. Toward the end of the 2012 season, the team that drafted Sandberg out of high school in 1978 in the 20th round, the Philadelphia Phillies, hired him to manage the Phillies and finish out the 2012 season. Sandberg would manage the Phillies for one more full season in 2013 and for 74 games in 2014 until he was fired and replaced by Pete Mackanin.

Slack didn’t have the base when Sandberg was in Peoria, he said. “So basically, I’ve been waiting for the right time ever since.”

Slack said he spent Game 6 of the Cubs’ World Series against Cleveland last year “pacing a lot” as he watched the Indians lead that game in the late innings before the Cubs came from behind for the victory.

“He was my favorite player growing up,” Slack said of Sandberg. “I’ve stuck with him and he’s a class act.”

Steve RobinsonIn the world of Special Olympics, family is a component of athletes’ lives that receives a high ranking along with all the things it’s dedicated to teach them: Teamwork, sportsmanship, a sense of belonging, some individual skills, and self-worth.

But at many of these events I’ve covered over the years, the parents, grandparents, and siblings come out but sometimes, not as much, any of the siblings’ friends to share in the experience.

Another thing that is missing at Special Olympics competitions that so-called “normal” sporting events have is cheerleaders. This was, after all and for all intent and purposes, a high school basketball game. When was the last time you went to a high school game and there were no cheerleaders?

With regard to that aspect of the event, Rachel Roth, a senior at El Paso Gridley High School, may have started something March 17 at Horton Field House on Illinois State University’s campus. Roth talked a few of her fellow EPG cheerleaders into coming out to cheer for EPG’s Special Olympics Basketball team during their run for a title.

Roth is the sister of Jordan Peacher, a member of EPG’s team which was making its second appearance at State Basketball. She brought her friends to cheer on the Titans against their first opponent, Rushville Special Olympics.

That meant EPG senior Maddie Morrison, and juniors Lacey Kiefer, and Kailyn Waldemar, all of whom cheer for EPG on sidelines at football and basketball games, would put their skills to use cheering for another Titans team. Morrison said the girls, “figured ‘why not?’ because the joy that the sport brings to Jordan and the other players is greater than anything else we can do for them. It’s just a small act and it lights up their world.”

That meant EPG’s team, and head coach Cindy Martorana and her troops were very happy to see the foursome shaking pompoms and lending encouragement when needed during their first game. EPG team members are: Peacher, Andrew Hartman, Zoey Slightom, Caleb Turner, Brady Neill, Geneva Powell, and Courtney Adkins.

“Jordan and his teammates have talked about coming to State for weeks,” Morrison said. The team qualified for State at District competition, held at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center in January. Morrison said the Special Olympics team members were the ones who planted the idea of having the cheerleaders come to the State Tournament. After the girls agreed to come, Morrison added, team members would say to them when they saw them in school hallways, “Can’t wait to see you!”

“I think I will get joy from seeing this team’s faces light up when they see us at their game,” Kiefer added. “I think it’s just awesome.”

For Waldemar, her experience with Special Olympics came earlier from knowing a cousin who once participated in one of its programs.

Peacher’s Sister Helps With His Basketball Game Skills: Roth said the four siblings in her family, including Peacher, regularly shoot hoops in a local park. In addition to Roth and Peacher, they are joined by an older brother and a younger brother. The foursome spends that time bonding and helping Peacher bolster his playing skills.

As a result of that practice, my brother has excelled quite a lot,” Roth said. And Peacher has returned the favor by attending EPG football and basketball games, to watch his sister and her fellow cheerleaders while taking in Titans games.

What the girls who shook pompoms and cheered got out of this surprised me. Not because of what one of them said but because what she said didn’t seem to take any prodding from the questions I asked (sometimes, for teens of any age, the thought is there, it seems, but the wording isn’t, but it eventually comes forward with a little guidance).

But Morrison had the exact thought for the situation: “This experience we get out of this is greater for us because it gives us a whole different perspective on how to look at life.”

“These athletes take the smallest event and for them, it’s big,” Morrison said. “For us, it’s just the experience of coming here and seeing them happy.”

And after Saturday’s double overtime 38-36 win over Rich Township Saturday at Shirk Center to win their division’s championship, you’ve never seen a happier bunch of players and family members.

As a result, everyone got something out of the experience.

BasketballBLOOMINGTON – El Paso Gridley High School’s Special Olympics Basketball team, having made it to the Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament March 17 and 18, came away with a first place medals and a team trophy for their efforts, needing double overtime March 18 to defeat Rich Township School District’s Special Olympics team, 38-36.

EPG’s tallest player is Brady Neill, at six foot tall. The rest of the squad range between five foot and six foot tall. Rich Township had three players who were at least six foot tall making them at least a head taller than most of EPG’s squad, and looked to have the upper hand by halftime. EPG found themselves down 10-8 after one quarter and 20-12 by halftime. But by the end of the third quarter, the Titans finally managed to outscore Rich Township 10-8 in the third quarter to pull within six, 28-22 to open the fourth quarter.

From there, EPG’s noted defensive wall and some man-to-man opposition to Rich Township’s drives to the basket only allowed Rich Township to score one bucket in the final quarter while EPG tallied eight points. As a result, when the final buzzer sounded, the game needed an overtime, tied at 30-30. Andrew Hartman’s layup with 48 seconds left in regulation coupled with a pesky defense led by Neill and Jordan Peacher, getting in the way of opponents trying for a last shot with the clock winding down forced the need for the extra period.

Both teams exchanged two baskets each in the first overtime, leading to the period ending with a 34-all tie, forcing the second overtime. Hartman scored twice in the second overtime to lift EPG to victory and their second consecutive first place finish in State Basketball. For his efforts, Hartman scored 26 points in the contest, scoring that amount for the second day in a row, having done it Friday against Rushville.

“They did it, and I knew they could,” said head coach Cindy Martorana following the hard-fought victory, reflecting on the effort her team put forth. . For sportsmanship, among other reasons, referees awarded Peacher a “Spirit Of The Game” honor from this contest.

“I like to score points,” Hartman said calmly after the championship game. He said playing against a team with bigger players “was a little hard but we took our shots and we won.”

“We weren’t concerned that we might not win,” explained team member Courtney Adkins.

Team Gets Prep Rally And Sendoff Local Police, Fire, EMTs: But earning first place wasn’t the only perk Martorana’s team got to enjoy before the tourney even started, according to one player’s parent.

Jackie Peacher, mother of Jordan Peacher, explained the team got a sendoff for State Basketball befitting of any team going for gold or a championship. She said that sendoff to State included a pep assembly at the local elementary school in Gridley so those kids could share in the experience.

Special Olympics IllinoisAt the high school, students lined the hallways, the team passing through a gauntlet of well-wishing classmates on their way to waiting vehicles. All of EPG High School’s students gave the team members high-fives, explained Natalie Adkins, mother of EPG team member Courtney Adkins, who is an EPG High School senior this year. That was followed by El Paso Police and Fire Departments giving the team an escort from town, complete with lights and sirens, to Route 24, on their way to I-39, where they would begin the drive to Normal.

“I was happy and excited to see it,” Andrew Hartman said. He added his mother has the event on video to treasure the moments.

Jordan Peacher said he saw people standing outside the local Casey’s General Store waving as the caravan went by. “I saw them outside there and so, I rolled down my window and waved back,” he said.

“It was very, very cool,” Natalie Adkins said. “We do it for our other athletes that go to State. And to do it for our Special Olympics team was very cool.”

“I thought it was really wonderful,” Jackie Peacher said of the experience. “The school does that kind of thing for the other athletes when their team goes to State. It was great that the community got together for our Special Olympics team. It was just amazing.”

Titans Start Tourney With Win Over Rushville Special Olympics: The Titans opened the tournament at Horton Field House on Illinois State University’s campus with a convincing 64-22 victory over Rushville Special Olympics. The Titans scored 16 points each in the first two quarters, leading 16-4 in the first quarter and 32-16 by halftime. The Titans added to their point production in the third quarter, outpacing their opponents, 12-6, in the quarter to a 44-20 lead going a fourth quarter where they demonstrated a 20-0 run en route to their first victory. Andrew Hartman a “Spirit Of The Game” honor. Andrew’s parents are Samantha Hartman, and Alfred Della Hartman.

Andrew said receiving the award “makes me happy.” Alfred Hartman, his father, said, following the team’s first tournament game. “We’ve been going to the park to shoot hoops when the weather’s nice.” Since his son has been involved in Special Olympics, he added, his son has shown some leadership on the court. Andrew’s mother, Samantha, added, “Andrew is awesome and he did a great job today.”

Steve RobinsonFor Ridgeview Mustangs’ Jordyn Talley and Heyworth Hornets’ Madielynn Sims, having one more day competing on the basketball court was what counted. They got their one more day competing at the IHSA 3-Point Competition at Redbird Arena on Feb. 23.

Even though both Ridgeview and Heyworth, both Class 1A schools, made exits en route to a championship bid, Heyworth lasted until the Class 1A Super-Sectional – one stop short of making an appearance at Redbird Arena. But for Talley, the 3-Point appearance came after experiencing Ridgeview’s fall in the Regional championship.

One More Day On The Court For Talley: But for Talley, to try to become the top free throw shooter in the Class gave the senior one more day on the court when the competition. That extension allowed her to sink 6-of-15 shots in the allotted 45 second time frame.

“I feel I could have done better, but I’m just glad to be here,” Talley said. “It’s a good feeling to be here. I just wished I had gotten 10-of-15, but you can only do what you can do.”

Redbird Arena “is a different environment” than the Mustangs’ home gym, Talley admitted.

The daughter of Gene and Tonia Talley, she added her coach, Scott Ghere, advised her “to have fun and take it all in.” Concerning the Mustangs having been stopped when they were in their quest to get to State finals by Cissna Park, Talley said, “We were really happy with how far we had gotten. When we lost, we were sad but it’s hard to hang your head when you’ve had such a good season.”

She’s right. When you have a losing season the prior year as the Mustangs did, and recoup to go 23-6, there is no reason to hang your head for too long, even when you lose a Regional. The Mustangs hope to get further next season, Talley said. She believes that’s possible based on “our having such a good season this year. Having gone from a losing season to a winning one this year was nice.”

Talley’s next challenge after high school is attending Parkland College followed by the University of Illinois where she’ll major in Kinesiology. That will, she hopes, lead to a job in sports training.

Heyworth’s Sims “Glad To Shoot A Little Longer”: For Madielynn Sims, the extension of her basketball season meant going 4-for-15 in the 3-Point Showdown. Of the experience, she said, “It was pretty exciting and I was pretty nervous. I’m glad I could shoot the basketball a little longer.”

The 3-Point Shootout was also Sims’ basketball finale in more ways than one, as she will be off to Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, where she will play Softball. She even has a profile page on a college scouting website.

“I’ve always been a softball player and played basketball, too,” Sims said. In addition to making the sport change once she gets to college, she would like to major in Criminal Justice.

Heyworth lost to Harvest Christian in the Class 1A Pontiac Super-Sectional, falling one step short of making it to State.

Sims wasn’t even supposed to have any more basketball beyond that point, but the 3-Point Shootout opportunity became a reality when a girl who was supposed to compete backed out, creating an open slot. “My goal was just to get one basket, so I was happy with what I got,” she explained.

The daughter of Derrick and Celena Sims, she said her head coach, Tony Griffin, “told me to just go out there and have fun and don’t worry about the distractions” shooting in a larger facility can be for high school players.

Sims admitted about the experience, “I was nervous, but I had fun.”

For both Talley and Sims, it sounds as though they enjoyed the experience of demonstrating their basketball skills one last time before heading off to new adventures in college. Here’s hoping those adventures for these young women will be equally satisfying.