Each year when the softball season arrives, there really is only one goal if you’re a Marengo softball player.
The expectation is to win another Class 3A state title. The Indians have won eight consecutive regional titles, but they haven’t been able to win the state title since their first and only in 2011.
While Marengo finished second at state in 2012, but they couldn’t get past the sectional last year as they lost in heartbreaking fashion, giving up five runs with two outs in the seventh inning to fall 6-5.
Winning, or not winning, a state title doesn’t define Marengo’s season.
“What prepares us to get there is our practices,” senior catcher Taylor Carlson said. “They’re always intense. We’re always expected to give 100 percent, get better that 1 percent every day. There’s pressure, but when it comes to the postseason, it’s not what the other team does. It’s what you do.”
Marengo coach Dwain Nance realizes there is pressure on his team when it comes to fulfilling its goal, but he’s confident in a team that features a mix of veterans and talented youngsters. The next step comes at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, when the Indians (27-10) play Belvidere in the Class 3A Marengo Sectional semifinal game.
“They want more,” Nance said of his team. “They know regional titles are expected here. There’s a lot of pressure to do that. It’s nice … but we have some pretty lofty goals we want to achieve.”
Nance said he doesn’t know much about Belvidere, and though that scares him a little bit, it allows the Indians to focus on themselves and make sure they execute. The Indians have two players remaining from that state title team – Carlson and first baseman/pitcher Abby Kissack – and they’ve set an example of how things should be done.
“One of my big goals in life on and off the field is to lead by example,” Carlson said. “So I try to do that. Generally, be positive and I think I put pressure on myself to always do better.”
The emergence of freshman Mariah Dionne, the Big Northern Conference East Division pitcher of the year, has given Marengo a big boost. Not only has she put together some dominating performances in recent weeks, including a 15-strikeout no hitter against Woodstock North in the regional semifinal, but her consistency has allowed Nance to keep Kissack at first base nearly full time.
Dionne’s maturation from the start of the season has impressed Carlson, and Nance credited assistant coaches Wayne Montgomery and former Marengo and current Illinois-Chicago pitcher Lindsay Melson for their work with Dionne.
Dionne is Marengo’s first full-time freshman pitcher since 2006.
“She’s been doing really good,” Kissack said of Dionne. “We pitch together at practice so I get to see her grow. She’s been doing really good with her pitches, moving them well which is a big thing when it comes to pitching.”
For Marengo to advance, the Indians will their dominating pitcher to continue with veterans such as Carlson, Kissack, junior right fielder Veronica Ruelius and junior second baseman Jessica Turner delivering timely hits and solid defense.
“Last year, we kind of fell apart at the end and didn’t really come together as a team,” Kissack said. “So this year we’ve been really focused on team chemistry and doing stuff as a team. Just going there as a team and knowing we can do it is one of the biggest things this year.”