EAST PEORIA – Morgan Gersch was at the center of a pitchers’ duel in Joliet West’s first state softball finals appearance in 41 years Friday. She caught a brilliant outing by sophomore Savannah Fierke, broke up a perfect game and started a seventh-inning rally.
But it wasn’t enough, as the Tigers’ (23-14) rally fell short in a 3-2 loss to St. Charles East (26-10).
“One little thing went wrong and that’s what it is in this game. That’s why it’s a mental game,” Tigers coach Heather Suca said. “I thought they stayed in it, [and] to come out and fight like they did in the seventh inning was amazing.”
St. Charles East had traffic in the sixth after singles by Krista Sbarra and Maddy Stout, setting the table for Alex Wooten. The Fighting Saints’ four-hitter singled up the middle to score Sbarra on a close play. Lainie Chizmark’s throw from center field beat Sbarra, but Gersch had to reach across her body from the first base side to put a tag on Sbarra, who was ruled safe for the game’s first run.
“I definitely had her, of course,” Gersch said. “It’s obviously a close play, a tough play. It obviously sucked being on the other end of it, but what can you do?
“It’s tough because obviously I knew we had her, but just get another out. We have to move on.”
But Gersch lost focus and couldn’t handle a full-count pitch that ricotched toward the first-base dugout. Her throw home went off Stout’s helmet, which also allowed Wooten to score and St. Charles East to take a 3-0 lead.
“I was thinking too much,” Gersch said. “I definitely should have had it. It sometimes goes that way as a catcher, and I think everyone should know it’s tough.”
Gersch has been instrumental in Fierke’s development as a top pitcher, constantly picking her up in tough situations. This time, Fierke, who surrendered five hits and struck out 10, wanted to return the favor.
“She has my back and knows how to make me smile and knows when I’m not doing my thing right. She’ll come in and can just read me; she knows.
“She does everything in her power to do her job, and I wasn’t mad at her at all. That’s like a one-in-100 chance that the ball hits off her mask like that, and then they score two more runs. I just wanted to be there for her and get that next out to get us to hit.”
But without Gersch, the offense may not have gotten going at all. After watching the first 11 hitters in front of her walk back to the dugout, Gersch hit a two-out double in the fourth inning to break up Katie Arrambide’s perfect-game bid.
“Her riseball [made her effective],” said Fierke, who struck out three times against Arrambide. “It was a really hard pitch not to swing at, but once we started making adjustments, you could tell [the umpire] wasn’t calling it. I think we were so anxious to hit that, that [the] riseball looked so good even though we should’ve taken it.”
Then in the seventh, Gersch worked a walk to start a rally. Lauren Russell singled in the next at-bat. With two outs, Madison Fraser and Ambria May delivered RBI singles to cut the lead to 3-2.
“You couldn’t ask for anything better [than] for them to come back and really support you,” Gersch said. “This team has so much fire in them, and I’m so proud.”
Gersch has provided leadership for the Tigers behind the plate and has been the team’s best bat, entering the tournament with a team-high .407 average.
“Morgan’s been huge,” Suca said. “She’s huge behind the plate, she’s a leader back there and she’s become more vocal back there [during] the last month, really turned into the player that we’ve seen that she could be.”