By J.W. Campbell, Sportswriter
Unless a team finishes first or third at the state tournament, its season ends on a losing note. Generally, that fact offers some comfort to teams that are ultimately eliminated from the IHSA state series. For the Triad Lady Knights, however, that may not offer much solace, given the way they bowed out of the postseason tournament.
During the regular season, the Lady Knights scored an impressive 7.39 runs per game, but in their regional final loss to the Freeburg Midgets, they were shut out for the first time all year.
A 6-0 loss to the Midgets ended their season with an impressive 23-8 record, but there were also the lingering thoughts of what could have been.
“That’s not the way you want to go out, especially with such a great group of seniors as we had,” Triad Coach Kris Kleeman said. “We didn’t pick a very good day to have a bad day. They scored five runs in the first inning and put us back on our heels a little bit. I think we got a little rattled after that.”
Certainly, there were many high points to the year, including 20-plus wins and a second consecutive Mississippi Valley Conference title. This year, the team went 8-2 in the league, edging out Highland (7-3) for the MVC crown.
Triad nailed down the conference title on May 17 with a 6-0 win over the Waterloo Bulldogs in Waterloo. Then in the Civic Memorial regional semifinal, the Lady Knights avenged their two MVC losses to the Eagles with a 5-3 win in the semifinal round.
Triad could also boast of a 10-game winning streak that began on April 10 with a 4-3 edging of Jersey County in Jerseyville and continued through May 13 with a 19-0 drubbing of Granite City.
CM broke the winning streak on May 15 when the Eagles beat Triad 10-3 in Troy in a game that could have been the Lady Knights’ 20th win of the year and the conference clinching contest. Both goals were eventually accomplished but at a later date.
Triad was led this year by three outstanding seniors, Payton Bode, Kailey Daniel and Liz Young, all of whom have signed national letters of intent to attend Southwestern Illinois College and play softball for the Blue Storm.
Offensively, the Triad seniors all batted .383 or better. Daniel led the way with a .463 average in 82 at bats. She also had 11 RBIs and 29 runs scored. Her numbers could have been better, but an emergency appendectomy forced her to miss several weeks of games near the end of the season. She did, however, return in time for the playoffs.
Bode proved to be the Lady Knights most prolific hitter, collecting team highs in hits (41), RBIs (38) and doubles (14). For the year, she batted .383.
Young finished the year as a .398 hitter with seven home runs. She also had 10 doubles, a triple and 32 RBIs.
In addition, Young served as the team’s primary pitcher. She went 20-5 on the year with a 2.22 ERA. In 157 1/3 innings pitched, Young allowed 136 hits, issued 41 walks and struck out 155 batters.
Other Triad players of note included first baseman Isabelle Lehan, outfielder Shiane Taylor, pitcher/designated palyer/ first baseman Ella Moore and shortstop Dallas Zirkelbach. All are expected to return for the 2020 season.
Lehan batted .293 with a team-leading nine home runs. She had 28 RBIs. Taylor was a .412 hitter with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. Moore finished the year with a home run and 14 RBIs, while Zirkelbach batted .320 with 22 RBIs.
Other expected returners include outfielder Jenna Bohnenstiehl (.278, 29 runs scored) and Caroline Lehan (.274),
“We will be returning a lot of firepower and a lot of speed next year, but we still could be looking at a rebuilding year,” Kleeman said. “We’ll need to replace our catcher (Bode), our top pitcher (Young) and our second baseman (Daniel). People think that you can put anyone at second base, but that’s not the case in softball. The second baseman does a lot of things in softball.”
Kleeman went on to say that her top two pitchers for the 2020 season will probably be a junior and a sophomore.
“That could make life very interesting,” she said. “It all depends on how they develop and advance over the summer.”