DECATUR -- Central Illinois softball fans were in heaven last week.
As the weather (mostly) cooperated, an incredible week of local softball was had throughout the Herald & Review coverage area, getting fans excited to discover how the postseason will play out this year.
Tuesday saw a rematch between Central Illinois Conference powerhouses Meridian (24-4, 13-0) and Tuscola (29-2, 12-2). Meridian took the first meeting 7-4 in Tuscola back on April 12 and the Hawks picked up the season sweep with a 2-1 victory at home to seal the conference title.
Also on Tuesday, Mount Zion (24-2, 11-1) hosted a doubleheader against Apollo Conference rival Charleston (25-3, 9-2) with the conference crown on the line. The Braves took both games, 4-0 and 9-2, as well as the conference plaque.
Mount Zion then faced defending Class 1A state champions Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg (32-1-1) on Friday and handed the Hatchets their first defeat in more than a year. The Braves got out to a 9-0 lead after two innings and then held off a Windsor rally to win 12-8. This was a rematch from a March 25 meeting that was called due to darkness tied 7-7 in the 10th inning.
With Mount Zion in Class 3A and Windsor in 1A, fans won't be treated to a rubber match but there will certainly be many memorable moments from the postseason that begins Monday with the Class 1A and 2A regional quarterfinals. Here are 10 local teams that could make some noise in the playoffs and vie for a state title.
Casey-Westfield (20-8, 6-2 Little Illini) is the No. 1-seeded team in the 1A Cumberland regional and the Warriors look to make a trip similar to last season's run to the super-sectionals. The duo of Claire Maulding (seven home runs, 35 RBIs and a 1.293 OPS) and Emma Mason (.465 batting average, five home runs) have been hitting the cover off the ball this season.
Charleston has been smacking homers all season with four batters hitting more than five and a team total of 31. Defending state champions Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg and Mount Zion are the only teams that have gotten the best of the 25-3 Trojans who are the No. 1-seeded team in the Class 3A Mahomet-Seymour Regional.
The only team to top Tuscola this season is Meridian but the Warriors won't have to worry about the Hawks in the postseason (Meridian is in Class 1A, Tuscola is in Class 2A). Tuscola, behind the tip-top pitching of Kaitlyn Reifsteck (17-2, 1.18 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 130 innings) and Ashton Smith (11-0 with a 1.75 ERA) will face the winner of Shelbyville vs. Sullivan in the regional semifinal.
Maroa-Forsyth (16-8, 7-1 Sangamo) starts their playoff run with the sneaky Argenta-Oreana team that could prove to be a challenge but the Trojans will rely upon ace pitcher and No. 3 batter Braylee Finck. Maroa will be looking for back-to-back regional championships and a first sectional title.
No team looks more prepared for a repeat championship this year than the Hatchets. A single defeat to Class 3A Mount Zion should have Windsor motivated for postseason play. Powered by Megan Schlechte, Carson Cole, Mackenzi Tabbert and Calla Roney, Windsor has scored more than 10 runs in a game 18 times this season.
The Apollo Conference champs are eager to get back to the Class 3A state tournament after a fourth-place finish last season. Senior catcher Danya Kennedy is at it again with eight home runs and junior pitcher/outfielder Audrey Eades is hitting .521 with 34 RBIs.
Freshman pitcher Daleny Chumbley is 12-1 on the season with a 0.66 ERA. A super-accurate pitcher, she has walked six batters in 77 innings while striking 124. The Tornadoes are 25-1 on the season and could face Hillsboro again in the sectional semifinals after defeating them 6-2 on April 20.
The three-bat attack of Jesse Damery (.476 batting average), Kaelee Stockton (.461 batting average) and Zoie Bowman (.459 batting average) have combined for 113 hits and 79 RBIs on the seasons. The Hawks are 24-4 and a perfect 11-0 in the CIC and face the winner of Nokomis vs. Okaw Valley in the regional semifinal.
Central A&M's playoff road will be challenging as they open against Arcola and then likely Meridian with No. 1-seeded Casey-Westfield looming as well. Raiders' slugger Allie Dunn is hitting above .500 with eight home runs as she powers the offense.
Last season's Class 1A third-place finishing Bombers team has had a tougher regular season this year (13-11, 7-2 Little Okaw) but senior catcher Cami Newbanks has been tearing it up with a .487 batting average and 1.335 OPS. She and her pitching sister Cassi Newbanks could have the Bombers making some noise again in the playoffs.