East Peoria softball season legendary

Bryan Veginski
East Peoria freshman Remi Ferguson burst on to the scene this spring with a softball season in which she hit .405 with 11 home runs and 52 RBIs. Ferguson was one of eight regulars who batted at least .320 for the 32-5 Raiders.

This was a softball season for the record books for East Peoria.

The Raiders won the first sectional championship in program history as part of a 32-5 record.

East Peoria also won its third straight Mid-Illini Conference championship with a 14-0 mark. It has not lost a league game in more than two years.

“I’m extremely proud of the girls. I think we had an outstanding season,” EPCHS head coach Denee Menzione said. “We really came together as a team.”

Two freshmen mixed with eight upperclassmen to form a powerful line-up that averaged 7.2 runs per game. Five players posted an OPS of at least 1.0.

The Raiders, with one of the state’s top pitchers regardless of class, allowed just 44 earned runs.

East Peoria was denied an Illinois High School Association state finals trophy when it lost, 4-2, June 9 to eventual Class 3A runner-up Manteno at Marian Kneer Stadium in the Normal Super-sectional.

“After the game, they were extremely disappointed,” said Menzione. “After that, I told them, ‘You guys made school history.’”

The Raiders had won 18 of their last 19 games coming into the matchup with the Panthers.

“This was the first team I truly believed we could get to state,” Menzione said.

Prior to the Elite Eight appearance, East Peoria won its own regional May 31 and the Metamora Sectional June 7. Along the way, it defeated three M-I foes.

The Raiders tied for second on the school’s single season wins list. They match the 2012 squad and were only one victory behind the 33-6 output in ’11.

East Peoria hit .358 as a team with 74 doubles and 41 home runs that rank 12th in IHSA softball history.

The Raiders also joined Marion Crab Orchard in the No. 1 spot with five grand slams

this season.

“One through nine, we were solid,” said Menzione. “We really fed off each other well.”

That historically-potent line-up combined brilliantly with the shutdown pitching of senior Sarah Finck.

The Illinois State University signee finished a spectacular four-year career with her finest season.

“She really stepped up so much this year, which was as expected,” Menzione said. “I really don’t think you’ll ever be able to replace Sarah Finck in East Peoria.

“I was honored having her for three years.”

Finck threw 197 of the team’s 237 innings. She was 25-2 with a 0.75 ERA and 235 strikeouts with just 45 walks. Opponents hit a mere .163 off the righthander.

She was 71-9 overall for the Raiders. She compiled a 0.79 ERA with 691 strikeouts in 557 1/3 innings. Finck surrendered just 63 earned runs altogether.

Batting lead-off, Finck topped the Raiders with 21 stolen bases in 22 attempts, a .465 batting average, 12 doubles, a .511 on-base percentage and .850 slugging average.

She also tied for the team lead with 11 home runs and drove in 36, while fanning only eight times in 139 trips to the plate.

Finck was a .405 career hitter with 38 doubles, 16 triples, 17 homers and 102 RBIs.

Remi Ferguson, a freshman, batted .405 with 11 homers and a team-high 52 RBIs.

She added nine doubles, a .431 on-base average and .784 slugging percentage to thrive in a difficult role as the designated player.

“Playing the DH role every single game is such a mentally tough part,” said Menzione of Fergsuon, who had key grand slams against Morton April 24 and Limestone May 27 in the regional semifinal.

Another freshman, catcher Ashley Emert, hit .430 with seven homers among 15 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs.

She was on base at a .487 clip and provided a .720 slugging average.

“They were unbelievable, the two of them,” said Menzione of the freshmen. “All season long, they played like seniors.”

Plenty of other players delivered impressive seasons that would stand out almost any other year.

Junior third baseman Taylor Kellum batted .377 with three homers, nine doubles and she knocked in 25 runs.

Kellum drew a team-best 15 walks with the least strikeouts, six. She had a .461 on-base percentage.

First baseman Brooke Jacobs, also a junior, hit .356 with 11 doubles, second on the team, four round-trippers and 27 RBIs.

She had a .415 on-base average withe eight steals without getting caught.

Senior second baseman Kali George knocked in 24 runs, while batting .367. She reached base at a .411 rate.

George also was 3-0 in 40 innings in 10 games in the circle as the No. 2 pitcher.

Over the last two years, George posted a .333 average with 42 RBIs.

Senior shortstop Ally Watson drove in 21 runs from the No. 9 position, including huge RBIs in both sectional contests.

Ciera Montgomery, a senior center fielder, batted .321 with nine extra-base hits, two of which were homers, and 14 RBIs.

Montgomery was a .298 hitter with 46 RBIs as a three-year varsity player.

Junior outfielders Whitney Adams and Tori Lowery were a strong offensive platoon. In a combined 150 at-bats, they knocked in 21 runs.

Adams batted .324, while Lowery had six doubles.

“I think overall we had probably the best team chemistry we’ve had in years,” Menzione said.

Junior Khloe Livingston also was an upperclass varsity letter winner.

An incoming sophomore and a junior-to-be both are looking to be East Peoria pitchers and fill the large void left by Finck’s graduation.

“With the offense we still have, I think we should be OK,” said Menzione. “We have to be more solid defensively than we were this year.”

The Raiders are 120-18 (.869) overall and 52-4 (.928) in the conference over the last four seasons.