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.
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.
Newton Post 20 tops Effingham Post 120 7-5 late
Most of the games at the Junior Legion District 23 tournament have seen pitching take control, but the pitchers in Sunday night's Effingham Post 120/Newton Post 20 game faced an uphill battle.
While Brock Mammoser started the game for Post 20 on the hill and struggled, he came through with the biggest hit in the game, putting Newton up for good in a 7-5 win over Effingham.
Dieterich Post 628 eliminates Teutopolis Post 924 3-2
Errors proved to be Teutpolis Post 924's undoing against Dieterich Post 628, as Dieterich's sixth-inning rally in an 3-2 win were boosted by three Teutopolis errors
To lead off the sixth, Trenton Poe reached on an error by Brock Bueker, and came around to score on an infield single by Ryan Radloff with a throwing error on Bueker. Poe was already on third when the ball went in the Teutopolis dugout, awarding Poe home to tie the game.
Bryce McClain followed with an RBI single to score Radloff and put Post 628 up for good. Dieterich scored again on a Briar Schmidt groundout where first baseman Brant Bueker tried to get an inning-ending out at second, but the throw was wild and brought home McClain.
Teutopolis, Deters down Altamont Post 512 2-0
TEUTOPOLIS — Lucas Deters didn't get a ton of run support from his Teutopolis Post 924 teammates, but he didn't need much in a complete-game shutout, and Teutopolis ended Altamont Post 512's season with a 2-0 win Sunday afternoon.
Deters' efforts at the Junior Legion District 23 tournament kept Teutopolis alive in the loser's bracket to face Dieterich Post 628 immediately following the win.
Two-out rally pushes Dieterich to win; Post 628 beats Vandalia Post 95 4-3
Down one with two outs and Vandalia Post 95 ace Zach Schaal coming in in relief, Dieterich Post 628 had a tough task to keep its season alive.
But down 3-2, Cole Hartke and Charlie Thoele laced back-to-back singles to score Briar Schmidt and Flach, respectively, to take a 4-3 lead.
Clayton Campton held the lead in the seventh, striking out two and getting Post 95 in order to keep Dieterich's season alive.
Late Newton rally downs Robinson 4-2
Newton Post 20 rarely had an answer for Robinson Post 69's Brayden Burch, but thanks to a few key Robinson errors, Newton took their District 23 opener 4-2 Friday night.
With the game tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Mitch Jansen led off with a walk, followed by Tim Weber reaching on an error by Robinson shortstop Zander Laino and a bunt single by Luke Geier.
Mike Carr came through with a bloop single to center, scoring Jansen to put Newton up 2-1.Burch struck out John Grunloh and Joe Stone, but second baseman Cameron Neese booted a grounder by Mitch Bierman and two more runs scored.
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