NORMAL - After bunting the LaSalle-Peru High School softball team into a tizzy, Normal Community switched gears Saturday at Maxwell Park.
Senior catcher Jordan Menendez was eager to pull the trigger for NCHS against Cavaliers' starter Torie Brunzell.
"I got a pretty good look at her my first at bat," Menendez said. "The first pitch looked like a screwball to me, and I just turned in on it and it went the way I wanted. As soon as I heard it, it felt pretty good."
Menendez, the Ironmen's No. 9 hitter, drilled a three-run double down the left field line to snap a scoreless tie and highlight a wild four-run, fourth-inning rally.
NCHS senior ace Amber May added a final exclamation point, recording her 1,000th career strikeout for the final out to cap the top-seeded Ironmen's 4-0 victory in the championship game of the Normal West Class AA Sectional.
The Ironmen (28-7) earned their first sectional title since 2004 and advanced to Monday's 4 p.m. Illinois Wesleyan Super-Sectional against East Moline. The Panthers won the Pekin Sectional with a 3-0 win over Limestone.
"The closer we get (to state), the more we want it," Menendez said. "The more we want it, the harder we play."
May (13-2) and Brunzell (18-1) were locked in a classic pitcher's duel until the bottom of the fourth. Brunzell blinked first, throwing a bunt hit by Courtney Sharp into the right-field corner for a three-base error.
Marla Kindred followed with another bunt that popped up in front of the plate. LaSalle-Peru catcher Callie Schmidt tried to make a diving catch but couldn't hold on to the ball, and Kindred alertly raced to second for a rare infield double while Sharp held at third.
Kaitlin Crane legged out another bunt in front of the mound after Brunzell checked the runner at third to load the bases and set the stage for Menendez.
"We were having a hard time getting the bat on the ball," said NCHS coach Bob Grimes. "When we scouted them they had a little trouble sometimes fielding the bunts, so I thought, well, let's try it and see what happens and today it worked out.
"That's the mentality of this team. They think softball and they think situations. We're very fortunate to have a smart group."
Grimes liked NCHS' chances with Menendez at the plate.
"I like putting seniors in that (No. 9) position because a lot of times in a game it comes down to that and the seniors usually do step up," Grimes said. "I was happy for Jordan. She's worked really hard. Give credit to the other kids that were on base also."
The final run scored on another error by third-seeded LaSalle-Peru (29-4), which was making its first sectional appearance since 1979.
"It was one bad inning," said LaSalle-Peru coach Carie Swanson. "Other than that they played good defense."
May, who continues to pitch with a painful knee injury, fired a two-hitter with 17 strikeouts and no walks. May has 49 strikeouts in NCHS' last three games.
"My adrenaline is pumping even harder every game," May said. "It's so intense now."
Brunzell allowed five hits and no earned runs with 12 strikeouts and four walks.