EAST PEORIA - Buoyed by the fluids she received from an I.V. Friday night, Amber May pitched her way into the Class AA state softball tournament records books Saturday night while sparking her Normal Community High School team to a 1-0 championship game victory over Barrington. | Photo gallery
The offensive star complementing May's windmilling wizardry was Katie Lutes, whose solo home run in the third inning hit the top of the right field fence and bounced over.
May (17-2), slowed by a virus Friday and facing knee surgery Wednesday, struck out 17 Phillies during a one-hitter to finish with a three-game Class AA tournament record 51 strikeouts, destroying the record of 42 shared by Ali Arnold of NCHS (2001) and Thornwood's Tina Zuccolo (1990).
"I didn't know (the record) was coming until now so it's definitely a great honor," said May, who got ahead in the count almost all night. "If I get ahead, I'm able to throw more junk."
After opening the school year with a Class 6A state football championship, NCHS closed it with another at EastSide Centre.
"We've got great athletes," said Ironmen coach Bob Grimes with tears in his eyes. "The community is behind you. We've been due. The last two years, not getting out of the regional, we weren't very lucky."
That luck changed as the Ironmen ended their fourth state appearance since taking the title in 2001 with a 32-7 record while Barrington closed at 37-4.
"I'm just so happy for the girls, the program and the community because it's everybody together," Grimes said. "We've got great parents."
In its noon semifinal, NCHS parlayed a pair of first-inning runs into a 2-0 triumph over Edwardsville as May fanned 15 and walked two during a one-hit gem.
The Tigers' lone hit was by Nicole Ritzheimer, whose one-out seventh-inning blooper dropped between the shortstop and leftfielder who collided as Ritzheimer was credited with a double.
Barrington, a six-time state qualifier, reached its first state final with a 2-0 semifinal win over Downers Grove South. A two-run error in the sixth accounted for all of the offense.
In the third-place game, Edwardsville edged Downers Grove South, 5-4, to finish 37-4. Downers Grove South ended at 32-7-1.
May, who was voted the tournament's most valuable player by the media, was masterful while striking out the first 11 Phillies she faced, a consecutive-K streak veteran tournament observers had never seen.
Grimes said Heartland College stole a 5-foot-4 star from the Division I ranks in landing her.
"A lot of bigger schools haven't looked at her and I know a lot of them look at size," he said. "But how do you judge the size of the heart?"
Barrington coach Perry Peterson tried to think of a better pitcher.
"She was terrific," he said. "We've seen a lot of good pitchers over the years and she's as good as anyone we've ever seen."
May lost her perfect game when Devinne Wapotish doubled in the sixth following a long delay when she was hit by the ball on a bunt attempt.
"There isn't a lot that fazes her," Grimes said. "After the double, I felt sorry for them because she got mad. Usually when she gets mad, she gets better."
May, who was joined on the all-tournament team by Lutes and Shayla Hoenes, got some breathing room when Lutes stroked her one-out homer.
"All year long someone has stepped up big and today it was her turn," Grimes said. "She made solid contact. I was just ecstatic. It was awesome."
It was also off a pitch that was high and inside.
"I think it was a riseball," Lutes said. "I usually don't swing for the high pitches, but it was on the inside part of the plate. I didn't think it was going to be over at first (when it hit the top of the fence)."
Lutes also took a swing at summing up May's exploits.
"Amber is unbelievable," Lutes said. "She's the toughest girl I know. It's an honor to play with her."
The homer was the second for Lutes, who also sent one out in the super-sectional.
"I didn't know if it was going to have a chance," Grimes said. "I thought the girl might be able to catch it. I'm just thankful she didn't or we would still be playing."
Losing pitcher Claire Voris (36-3), who set the state record for victories in a season earlier Saturday, tossed a three-hitter while striking out six an walking none.
Many Ironmen batters felt uncomfortable waiting for Voris to pitch and so they repeatedly stepped out of the batters' box.
"It took them a little bit of time to get their signs in and we've always instructed the girls to step out when that happens," Grimes said. "It's something we've done all year when we don't feel comfortable."
Senior Marla Kindred, who got the first hit for NCHS in the second inning, felt great after the game.
"I've never been so proud in my life," said Kindred of her team. "These are my sisters. They are my best friends. I can't even describe how good I feel."
Her feelings were strong for her pitcher.
"She just loves to play the game and that is so inspiring for the rest of us," Kindred said.
In the semifinals, May received a rare luxury when she was spotted a two-run lead in the bottom of the first.
Lutes was hit by a pitch prior to Jessi Smith's team-leading fifth triple of season.
"Almost everybody in the lineup has had a big hit," Grimes said. "Who knows who's next?"
The next batter, Lisa White, sent a sacrifice fly to center to score Smith.
"I just came out really aggressive," Smith said. "I was going to swing at the first pitch no matter what. I just tried to swing at it hard."
The cushion made May hard to beat.
"It takes a lot of pressure off knowing I can let them hit the ball," she said.
NCHS managed six hits, two by Shayla Hoenes, off of Edwardsville sophomore Lauren Francis (15-2), who fanned four and walked one.
"Coach said she lived and died on the outside corner so I was looking for that," Smith said.
May, who struck out 19 in Friday's quarterfinal, killed Edwardsville's bats with a poisonous diet of change-ups and sinkers to reach 1,047 career strikeouts, the 17th most in state history, entering the title game.
"I realized they were really disciplined," she said. "They weren't chasing the riseball. I told my catcher (Jordan Menendez), 'let's stay off-speed today.' I used my change-up probably twice as much as I ever have in my career."
Edwardsville coach Lori Blade was impressed.
"That was probably the best pitcher in the state tournament," she said. "I thought situationally we had what we wanted because he (the umpire) wasn't giving her the high strike, but she's good enough to make the adjustments and we just kept chasing out of the strike zone the whole time which probably helped make her that much better."
Edwardsville's lone hit by Ritzheimer seemed to find the only 16 square inches of turf NCHS couldn't cover.
"We haven't had a lot of duck snorts like that this year," Grimes said. "Jessi (Smith) was going out and Kimmy (Hassel) wasn't calling her off, I guess. That's part of the game."
NCHS reception today
The Ironmen will be honored at a public reception in the NCHS cafeteria at 2 p.m. today.