The Marengo Indians opened defense of their Class 3A Illinois High School Association state title with two straight wins, before dropping an April 2 game to Sterling.
Their March 19 game was an eye-opener in a 15-2 dismantling of Prairie Ridge. They sent an even dozen batters to the plate, picking up nine runs on seven hits, and jumping out to a 12-0 lead by the end of the second inning. The game before that was a 13-1 win.
There were cancellations along the way through the nonconference March schedule, and the game at Sterling High School was one of them. The Golden Warriors’ Maddie Corwell stopped the Indians cold with 11 strikeouts in a 2-0 win. These tune-ups before the Kishwaukee River Conference opener will help later this spring, when they make their next run in the postseason.
“We are trying to get a lot of live, and front-toss, pitching in practice,” said Indians head coach Dwain Nance. “That way, our kids are seeing a lot of pitches and learn to recognize their best and worst pitch … being disciplined at the plate is very important. We schedule some very difficult games for a reason. It prepares us for the postseason. In softball, everyone makes the postseason, so it’s good to challenge yourself.”
The 2017 team finished with a 35-6 record, including a trip to East Peoria for the championship rounds. The Indians pulled out a 1-0 late-inning June 9 win against Nazareth Academy in the semifinal game, and a 2-0 victory in a similar fashion against the East Peoria Red Raiders June 10, for the title. It was the second top-slot finish in the program’s history, complementing other regional and sectional titles, all under Nance.
“Obviously, winning the state championship (last year) was a huge highlight,” he said. “But one thing I noticed was that team played together, and got along with each other. They built long lasting relationships with each other … that team was close. It’s fun to watch that happen.”
The celebration was somewhat abbreviated, hours after the team got home, as a June 11 gas explosion, during the early morning hours, left four homes destroyed, damaged 19 others, and rendered more than 50 other residences inhabitable, on and around, the 7th Circle neighborhood. Families were left homeless, and repairs are still being completed at some home sites.
Nance recalled hearing the explosion, and driving there. He had said there was relief that no one was seriously hurt and felt badly for the families whose homes were ruined. Team member Anna Walsweer and others helped out at the Marengo area Out Reach Enterprises (MORE Center), a nonprofit organization providing emergency assistance for needy individuals and families in the Marengo and Union area. The community pulled together. A June 25 benefit wrestling tournament was held for Indians coach Tim Keefer and his family, who were left homeless by the blast.
“The Marengo community is a great one,” he said. “It does a great job of supporting each other, our program, and the kids. It takes everyone to have a very successful program, like we do … and it’s a great place to coach and teach at.”
Providing a sports outlet for girls, especially mentoring the game of softball, is important to the fabric of the community, in addition to supplying the Indians teams with potential players when they pass through high school.
“Our assistant coaches, Rob Jasinski and Wayne Montgomery, and myself, are on the Marengo-Union Girls Softball Board, and Wayne (Montgomery) is the president,” Nance said. “The high school and MUGS have a great working relationship, and everyone is on the same page. It is a wonderful situation for our program, being in the position we are in. A lot of the softball parents are also on the board, such as Wendy Aubry, Aimee Ritter, John Turn, and Todd Christopher.”
The Indians play in the Kishwaukee River Conference, founded in 2016, on the heels of Woodstock and Woodstock North’s joint 2013 announcement of leaving the Fox Valley Conference, and form a new one. Teams from the Big Northern Conference, including Marengo, also joined the aggregation. The powerhouse teams representing all the athletic programs at the various schools translates into one tough schedule.
“For softball, Burlington Central always plays us tough, and the conference championship has been won, either by them or us, for the past 12-15 years,” said Nance. “However, the KRC will be rough this year. All the teams are improved, and bring back some quality players. There’s a lot of good pitching in the conference, and it reminds me a little of when I first got to Marengo … the Big Northern Conference was a tough softball conference.”
In 2017, Marengo was the last team standing in the Class 3A division, from McHenry County and in the state. By the month of May, the team will start its trek into the postseason.
—Marengo Indians open season as IHSA champions–