By Mike Monahan
After a softball sweep of Frontier College on Saturday, the Lake Land team did something it had not done since 2019 – and that was have a BBQ afterwards on what were the last two home games of the season.
And why not celebrate after another victory that capped a perfect season – 24-0 at home, its best since going 18-0 in 2015.
Lake Land, the No. 21 team in Division I NJCAA and the top-seeded team in Region 24, beat Frontier College 10-0 and 9-0 in the first-round regional series.
The Lakers now advance to play in a four-team, double-elimination tourney at Southwestern Illinois College next Saturday to determine who will advance to the national tournament.
How dominant was Lake Land?
The Lakers played so well that Tori Haug’s no-hitter almost seemed superfluous. Lake Land outscored Frontier 19-0, outhit them 19-3 and were never never threatened, scoring nine runs in the two first innings.
Haug threw a four inning no-hitter in the second game with two walks and five strikeouts, including the last two batters.
“I didn’t know I threw a no-hitter,” said Haug of Commerce City, Colorado. “Today, both my curve and screwball were working well. Just moving the curveball in different places seemed to be effective.”
Haug faced one batter over the minimum thanks to two double plays – in the second inning after Mattoon grad Brooklyn Edwards reached on an error and in the third when Atkinson caught a ball at shortstop, stepped on second and threw to first.
Haug retired the last eight batters.
“Tori was really good this year in the fall as she didn’t allow an earned run until the sixth game against Division I opponents,” said Lake Land coach Nic Nelson.” She looked good in the spring, but then broke her finger (ring finger on glove hand missing a month). She came back and faced this tea and was good, but the last couple of weeks she has come back to be herself and she did well. Clair and Tori are a great combination. They are both a little different in what they do.”
Lake Land (51-10) have now won 50 or more games in nine of the last 10 seasons, not including the shortened COVID-19 season of 2020.
“We have come a long way since the beginning of the season,” said Eva Richardson. “It is really refreshing to know we have over 50 wins. We are on a roll (12 consecutive victories) and we will see how it goes in the tournament.”
Game 1: Lake Land 10, Frontier 0
Lake Land wasted little time in getting on the board sending 12 to the plate.
Richardson got things started with a single to center, moved to second on a passed ball and scored on a single to right by Ashlyn Hicks scored Richardson. Kaitlyn Scheitler singled to right/center and with one out Bella Atkinson singled to load the bases. Mattoon graduate Jordan Sapp walked on four straight pitches to force in Hicks.
With two outs Ava Stephens singled to right scoring two runs and chasing starting pitcher Morgan Carr out of the game as she was relieved by Jailyn Carr, who after throwing a wild pitch gave up a two-run hit by the No. 9 batter Klara Ceikova-Kolaci for a 6-0 advantage.
Maulding retired 10 straight batters until a two-out single in the fifth by Hannah Roberts. She ended the game with a strikeout as she had at least one in every inning, including all three in the fourth.
Maulding has thrown to Richardson since the two were in junior high at Casey.
“It is awesome,” said Maulding.”That is my favorite part of pitching to her. I am used to her and she knows me well and where all of my pitches go. She is just there for me behind the plate always.”
The Lady Lakers plated four in the third, including two on an error.
Richardson was 2-for-3 as was Mackayla Denney, while Bella Atkinson was perfect in two at-bats.
“We have both done a lot of growing up together. It is amazing to see how much Claire has improved and how much better she has gotten since high school. She looks really good right now and that is what I am most excited about. It is a blessing to catch her.”
Maulding said her curveball and screwball were working great.
“The last time we played them my curve wasn’t on, but this time I threw a lot away and then came back in with a rise ball and I think that helped a lot. They complimented each other.”
Game 2: Lake Land 9, Frontier 0
Again, the first inning helped as Lake Land broke out on top, 4-0 as Sapp hit a three-run home run driving in Richadson and Hicks with no outs.
“I was just trying to take the ball to the opposite field because we had girls in scoring positions and I just needed to get a bse hit and get them in because I was struggling today,” said Sapp of her eighth home run of the season.
“It wasn’t just a three-run homer,” said Nelson. “It was a three-run homer into a stiff wind. The flag was coming in straight and we told the girls today it was going to be really important to keep the ball down and hit line drives because nothing was going to go out and that went went half way up a tree. It wasn’t just a home run it was a home run against the wind.”
Hicks drove in a run in the two-run second. After not scoring in the third the Lady Lakers took advantage of an error in the fourth when Ceikova-Kolaci reached and later scored after Richarson laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt and the left-handed Hicks singled to left. Scheiter singled to center and Mackayla Denney, from Perth Austria, tripled to right, driving in two runs.
Hicks was perfect in two at-bats with a double and two runs batted in, while Scheitler was 2-for-3 with a sacrifice.
As for the double plays Haugh said, “They were big and they were super exciting for us. We made good plays and it was great. As a team we worked as a team and it went really well for us. The double plays were helpful.”
Last season, Lake Land finished 52-10 but lost in the Region 24 championship to John A. Logan, 7-3.
Denny Throneburg and John Hendrix (both assistant coaches) do an amazing job and I just sit back and kind of watch and bide my time until next year,” said Nelson, who has been cleared after surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. “I can’t thank them enough for stepping in and helping out.”
It is the fourth time Lake Land has swept a doubleheader via shutouts.
“After losing last year, we are trying to battle back and make it longer than what we did in the tournament last year,” said Sapp. “I think we are very excited especially the sophomores because we had a rough ending to our season last year. I think we all came into the game really wanting it more than they did and we are all excited to be moving on.”
Having two big first innings is important, said Nelson.
“Six and four runs in the first is important, especially this time of year,” said Nelson. “Whenever you score on them early in a big tournament it puts pressure on the opponents quite a bit.”
Haug said Mattoon is a big change from Colorado.
“But I would not change it for the word,” said Haug. “If I could make this choice over I would do it a million times. We are all very excited and I think this is the first step to something good.”
Winning pitcher: Claire Maulding (23-3) 5 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 11 strikeouts
LAKE LAND HITTING: Eva Richards 2-for-3 run. Ashlyn Hicks 1-for-1, 2 runs, RBI. Kaitlyn Scheitler 1-for-3 2 runs. Mackayla Denney 2-for-3, double, run, RBI. Bella Atkinson 2-for-2, double, sacrifice, RBi. Jordan Sapp walk run RBI; Ava Stephens 1-for-3, run, 2 RBIs; Klara Ceikova-Kolaci 1-for-2, run, 2 RBIs
Winning pitcher: Tori Haug (19-4) 4 innings, 0 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks 5 strikeouts
LAKE LAND HITTING: Richardson 1-for-2, 2 runs, sacrifice; Hicks 2-for-2, double, 2 runs, 2 RBIs; Scheitler 2-for-3, sacrifice, 2 runs; Denney 1-for-3 triple, 2 RBIs; Sapp 1-for-1, home run, run 3 RBIs; Stephens 1-for-2; Ceikova-Koaci 1-for-2, 2 runs.