Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL


June 5, 2014

McNamee: Ace in the hole for Altamont?

EFFINGHAM — In November, I was convinced the Stew-Stras volleyball team was going to win the Class 1A state championship, even before the Comets punched their ticket to Redbird Arena.

In February, I wondered if the Teutopolis girls basketball team would ever lose because all they did was kept on winning all the way into the Class 2A state final four.

I thought both teams were unstoppable, but I was wrong in each case. Stew-Stras ran into 2A-bound Rockford Keith Country Day and Michigan commit Adeja Lambert. Teutopolis ran into Champaign St. Thomas More and sophomore superstar Tori McCoy.

Similar feelings are creeping up on me this week as the Altamont softball team vies for a Class 1A state title, but it’s different because an opposing coach never said this about the Comets or Shoes: “I think we may have just played the state champions.”

That’s one of the things Camp Point Central head coach Amy Hildebrand said about Altamont, who destroyed her squad, 16-0, in Monday’s Super-Sectional round.

Altamont also has an asset that neither Stew-Stras or Teutopolis had in the final four — a great equalizer. Indians pitcher Deidre Ledbetter, like Lambert and McCoy, changes the ball game.

At a certain point, nothing that Stew-Stras or Teutopolis could do even mattered because Lambert was bigger than any blocker the Comets could put at the net and McCoy was Shaquille O’Neal with a jump shot. At least in basketball, a defense can roughhouse a bit.

Notes on Ledbetter might look something like this:

• She hasn’t lost to a 1A team all season

• She boasts a 1.11 ERA and more than 250 strikeouts

• She has more one-hitters than she knows what to do with

• She doesn’t give up leads

The Indians’ game plan doesn’t change because head coach John Niebrugge has an ace on the mound and an offense hotter than the summer sun. The offense is outscoring opponents 57-3 in five games this postseason — four of which were shutouts for Ledbetter.

What’s scary is the Indians are still getting better.

They dropped a 10-spot against Stew-Stras/Windsor in the regional championship game after a pair of close, low-scoring bouts earlier this season. They shutout Cumberland, 2-0, after squeaking out a 3-2 win in April. They handled Oblong, 15-0, and upgraded that performance with a 16-0 win against Camp Point Central in Supers.

Altamont’s offense is one with Madison Ohnesorge hitting .510 and four others above .400, while any player on any night can step up with a huge game. On Monday, Josie Phillips and Brooke Burns combined to go 6-for-6 with nine RBIs.

To win the sectional title, Phillips went 3-for-4 with six RBIs, while Burns and Nikki Tharp went a combined 4-for-5 with two home runs and three RBIs.

The offense made much of this postseason simple for Ledbetter, who had a lot of breathing room to work with, but even in a close game against Cumberland, the senior pitcher stepped up.

Altamont has two ways of winning this weekend — either they’re going to flatten teams on the scoreboard or lock them up from the pitching circle … or both.

The versatility that got them to this stage wasn’t always a known commodity, but it’s one of the main reasons why the three other teams in Peoria this weekend should be so threatened by them.

I was wrong about how Stew-Stras and Teutopolis would finish. I thought they had what it took to beat teams featuring a great equalizer, but although they finished second and third, respectively, they didn’t have the superstar to match their opponent.

Ledbetter is Altamont’s ace in the hole and she’s driving this bulldozer to Peoria.

Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or alex.mcnamee@effinghamdailynews.com.


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