(Submitted)

After a dramatic comeback to reach the championship series of the Illinois Little League 10-Under softball state tournament, Thursday, Zoe Daly and her River Forest all-star teammates knew anything was possible.

“It gives us momentum and confidence because we feel like we can fight back no matter what the score is and what inning it is,” Daly said.

River Forest delivered two of its strongest performances to capture the state title by beating Evergreen Park 4-3 in seven innings and 6-3 in the winner-take-all finale in Brookfield.

Team members are Emma Alvarado, Alice Bath, Avery Bryant, Ariana Catrambone, Daly, Grace Dine, Anna Dore, Charlotte Ireland, Lauren Leibundguth, Olivia Matz, Alysa Ortiz, Emma Sakellaris and Lindy Teclaw. Ann Bath was manager/coach with Laura Catrambone and Juan Ortiz as assistant coaches. Sadie Briggs and Caroline Leavy were practice coaches.

“I’m excited and proud of the entire team because this is really amazing,” said Daly, the winning pitcher in both games. “I want to remember this feeling of winning. It feels so good to win, and also playing with this amazing team is just going to stay with me forever.”

In the decisive game, Daly, who pitched the final 4.1 innings, and starter Alvarado stranded runners on third base in four of the six innings. Leadoff hitter Sakellaris was 3 for 3 with two runs, No. 2 hitter Matz was 2 for 4 with two runs batted in and Daly was 2 for 2 with two runs. 

River Forest added two insurance runs in the top of the sixth amid controversy. With two outs and the bases loaded, Matz beat out an infield grounder, scoring Daly, and Dine, a pinch-runner for Leibundguth, kept running from second and was safe at the plate on a close play.

Daly retired Evergreen Park 1-2-3 in the bottom of the sixth.

The previous day, River Forest scored six runs in the top of the sixth to rally past Brookfield 10-6. 

“I think we knew we could do it, especially if we could score six in one inning, we knew we could score over six in one game,” Sakellaris said. “I will never forget this moment with this team, even though we only played like eight games. Even though we were losing, we never really quit. We were always cheering our teammates on.” 

Having that feeling again was great for Ann Bath, who was part of three River Forest state championships as a player, including 10-U. After Thursday’s victory, she was given the cowbell that her coach’s wife (Cheryl Klonoski) used to inspire players from the stands.

“The last time I saw this cowbell was in 1987 or 1988 so it’s been a long time. It’s very, very special,” Bath said. 

“I went through the same thing in the late 1980s as well as my sisters in the late ’70s. These girls worked hard. They’re amazing. We focused on all of the controllables in practice and games and that’s why they won.” 

Daly also scored the winning run of Thursday’s first game on a wild pitch after reaching on an infield error. Contributing to River Forest’s first three runs were Sakellaris (2 runs, double), Ortiz (single, run), Alvarado (RBI), and Matz (single) and Dine (sacrifice), whose balls in play led to run-scoring errors.

River Forest needed to beat Evergreen Park twice out of the consolation bracket after losing their first meeting 3-1, July 26, minus shortstop/No. 4 hitter Ortiz.

“I’m a big fan of the loser’s bracket,” Ann Bath said. “If you get that loser’s bracket win, you ride that momentum and come into that championship much more primed and ready to go.” 

Alvarado enjoyed the championship ring around her neck before she signed team balls, given to each player.

“I’m going to remember this ring. It’s going to stay here every day and I’m going to remember my friends and the [team] pictures,” Alvarado said.

“I’m very happy for my team and very excited. We did really good and we were all brave in the game, confident and tried our best.” 

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