The gravity of the moment wasn't lost on Stew-Stras junior Kendall Knop.
Moments after the Comets punched their ticket to their first state tournament since 1995-96 with a 25-20, 24-26, 25-18 win over Liberty, Knop knew what it meant.
"It just feels really good, I feel like we're part of history and that like really amazes me," she said.
The dramatic three-set victory was enough to make Stew-Stras (27-12) the Class 1A Nokomis Super-Sectional champions Saturday.
Knop's coach Ronda Schlechte was also reveling in the moment post-game.
"It's really good, this never gets old, it never gets old," she said.
Stew-Stras advances to the Class 1A state tournament Friday, facing off with New Athens at 10:30 a.m. at Illinois State's Redbird Arena in Normal. Keith Country Day and Scotia West Prairie play in the other semifinal at 9 a.m.
It took a concerted effort throughout, beginning with a tight first set. Stew-Stras struggled with some hitting errors but stayed consistently within three points.
Down 19-16 after a Madelyn Hyer kill for Liberty, the Comets took over. Kills by Baylee Quast and Knop got them close, and Clara Kaufman put them up with two straight aces.
The Eagles would get a point on an error, but a kill by Becca Schlechte ended the set for Stew-Stras with a 25-20 win. Schlechte's play was part of a large team effort for Stew-Stras.
"The girls can place the ball really well, so there's a lot we can do with that," Ronda Schlechte said. "Hitting hard is our main goal, because the girls are able to put it down."
Liberty jumped out again early in the second again with Hyer taking over for a 13-8 lead. Stew-Stras came back to take the lead on a Schlechte ace at 18-17, but immediately gave the lead back.
The Comets staved off a 24-22 deficit with a Brittani Tabbert kill and a hitting error, but Liberty took the set with a block to end it at 26-24.
The blocking was an advantage for Stew-Stras and not for Liberty the majority of the night, thanks to the schematic differences between the teams.
Stew-Stras routinely double blocked the bigger Liberty hitters, while the Eagles generally only put one blocker on the Comets' hitters, allowing Knop to rack up 18 kills and Tabbert to notch 11.
"It's just good with one block, I can do a lot with one blocker," Knop said. "We've always been big strong hitters. The setters did a really good job putting it where I needed it. They were pretty perfect tonight."
Stew-Stras jumped out to the lead in the third, taking a 14-8 lead and forcing a Liberty timeout. The Eagles responded with five straight points and forced Schlechte into a timeout of her own.
It worked, as Stew-Stras immediately jumped out to a four-point lead and didn't look back. Schlechte, Knop and Kaufman were big down the stretch, and a hitting error by Liberty ended the ga,e.
"I said calm down, not to panic," Ronda Schlechte said. "We tend to do that when we get under pressure."
Becca Schlechte had eight kills of her own with 22 assists, 12 digs and one solo block. Quast added 18 assists and six digs, while Tabbert had 15 digs and Knop added 10 digs and four aces. Morgan Stremming also had a solo block on the night.
Moving forward, Knop was clear on what it would take to bring home the Comets' first state title since the 1986-87 season.
"This; exactly what we did tonight," she said. "We didn't give up."
Liberty 20 26 18
Stew-Stras 25 24 25
Stew-Stras: Schlechte (1 ace, 8 kills, 22 assists, 12 digs, 1 solo block, 2 block assists); Quast (3 kills, 18 assists, 6 digs, 1 block assist); Knop (4 aces, 18 kills, 10 digs); Tabbert (1 ace, 11 kills, 15 digs); Stremming (1 dig, 1 solo block, 1 block assist); Locke (6 digs); Kaufman (2 aces, 2 block assists)
Comets down Liberty in three to advance to state
The gravity of the moment wasn't lost on Stew-Stras junior Kendall Knop.
Czachorski: Extra innings intrigue unmatched
Obscenely long baseball games are my kryptonite. Once I get sucked in, it’s impossible for me to stop watching until it’s over. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Cubs, the Cardinals, the Astros or the Mariners — if it’s on TV and it’s going into the twelfth inning or later, you can bet I’m finding a way to tune in.
Newton's season ends in 14-4 loss
Newton Post 20 almost pulled another comeback off against the Orient Miners, cutting a 5-1 deficit to 5-4 midway through Monday night’s game.
But Newton’s Junior Legion Fifth Division tournament run came to an end, as Orient rattled off nine runs in the sixth inning and clinched a spot in the state tournament with a 14-4 win.
Comeback win keeps Post 20 alive in 10-7 win
Newton Post 120 didn’t let a 4-1 deficit get to them against Highland Post 439, using a patient approach in the face of an elimination game.
Three bases-loaded walks in the bottom of the third tied the game at 4-4, and with the bases loaded down 5-4 in the fourth, Tim Weber broke the game open with a two-run double and an error.
By the time the dust settled, Newton led 10-5 heading to the sixth inning and would hold on to a 10-7 win to keep its season alive.
Salem deals Newton first divisional loss
Mitch Bierman started off Newton Post 20’s game against Salem Post 128 with a bang Sunday afternoon, hitting a leadoff triple and scoring on the next batter.
Post 20’s offense didn’t follow his lead from there, as Newton had just three more hits and no runs, and falling in a Junior Legion Fifth Division winner’s bracket game to Salem 12-1 in seven innings.
Newton Post 20 bests Belleville Post 58 in opener 6-1
After a 9-3 loss to Breese Post 252 Gray Monday night, Newton Post 20 coach John Grunloh predicted the five-day break until the Junior Legion Fifth Division tournament would be good for his players, especially his pitchers.Mitch Jansen proved his coach right, spinning a gem in Newton's opener Saturday afternoon as Post 20 made short work of Belleville Post 58 6-1.
Hearts to prep with Mattoon 7-on-7
Two weeks ago, Effingham was supposed to start shaking off the rust with a 7-on-7 football tournament in Mattoon. Naturally, it rained and was canceled.
So Saturday, the Flaming Hearts will head up to Mattoon and play their first 7-on-7 event of the season, taking part in an 10- team field with Mattoon, Rochester, Robinson, Marshall, Cahokia and Pleasant Plains from Illinois, with Terre Haute North and Northview coming from Indiana. Rochester is bringing two squads.
Newton Post 20 plays Belleville Saturday
With the District 23 tournament behind them, Newton Post 20 now knows its fate for the Fifth Division Junior Legion tournament this weekend in Bethalto.
Newton will play Belleville Post 58 at 2:45 p.m. Saturday afternoon in Bethalto, in the third game of six on the day.
Effingham's season comes to a close with 11-1 loss to Salem
A 1-0 lead for Effingham Post 120 rapidly evaporated, and the post’s Junior Legion season came to an end with a 11-1 loss in five innings to Salem Post 128 Tuesday night.
The game was for the final spot of District 23 in the divisional tournament, with Newton Post 20 and Breese Post 252 Gray punching their tickets by winning their district divisions.
Newton Post 20 falls short against Breese Gray 9-3
While the District 23 title ultimately exceeded Newton Post 20’s grasp, their season will continue in Bethalto.
Newton took on Breese Post 252 Gray for the Junior Legion District 23 title as the two division winners, but Breese’s bats proved too much for Newton in an 9-3 loss for Post 20.
“The innings where they put some runs on us, we gave them some extra outs,” said Newton coach John Grunloh. “You’ve got to make the plays when you play better teams.”
Barnes' one-hitter boosts Post 120; Effingham beats Dieterich 1-0
Ryan Barnes hasn’t seen a lot of time with Effingham Post 120’s junior legion team this season, but he showed up in a big way Monday night in a 1-0 win over Dieterich Post 628.
The win kept Effingham’s season alive one more day in the Junior Legion District 23 tournament, as the post will face Salem Post 128 at 5:30 p.m. today for the district’s final spot in the divisional round. Salem Post 128 downed Mt. Vernon Post 141 1-0 in the West Division loser’s bracket, setting up the final with Effingham today.
- More Sports Headlines
- Czachorski: Extra innings intrigue unmatched