EAST PEORIA — The message couldn't have been simpler.
Dayna Kennedy and the Mount Zion softball team had a mound visit with pitcher Chayse Ramey with two outs and the go-ahead run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning of Saturday's Class 3A third-place game against Kankakee Bishop McNamara.
The Braves were less than 24 hours removed from a heartbreaking loss in the state semifinals. One swing and the result could have gone the same way. Kennedy told Ramey to pretend the score was tied, rather than Mount Zion holding a two-run lead. Ramey did just that. In fact, head coach Greg Blakey didn't see a hint of worry in his pitcher.
She struck out Madi Bylak to end the game, preserving a 4-2 win over Bishop Mac to take third place in state — one spot better than last season's fourth-place finish.
It was a drastically different ending for Ramey, who pitched five innings of relief, striking out four and allowing one earned run on seven hits. She was the losing pitcher in Friday's loss. Lightning wasn't going to strike twice on her watch.
“I just had to think that this game is what mattered, not yesterday," Ramey said.
Kennedy's words were important, but they were simply the cherry on top of an otherwise dynamic game. She hit a go-ahead two-run home run in the top of the third inning that easily cleared the left-field fence. In the top of the seventh, she ended her high school career with a solo shot to right field, giving Mount Zion a crucial two-run lead.
She drove in three of Mount Zion's (31-5-1) four runs in the game. The other run was what turned out to be a game-winning RBI double by Kynzie Wrigley with two outs in the top of the fifth inning, scoring Audrey Eades.
“Being my last high school game, I did not want to leave anything out on the table," Kennedy said. "I just wanted to leave it all on the field today and I feel like that’s what I did."
Kennedy isn't new to big moments. The Illinois State University-bound catcher and reigning Herald & Review Macon County Player of the Year has delivered time and again on the road to East Peoria for two seasons.
“Great players, and she is a great player, perform very well in the big moments," Blakey said. "She’s done that for her whole career here. She’s never shied away from the spotlight as far as the big moments and she’s always produced the big moments. She’s been our unquestioned leader for the last couple years. (Saturday) is a big reason why."
Bishop Mac (28-10-1) was never in a true position to walk Kennedy. Instead the Irish pitchers were forced to go at her. Relief pitcher Jaelyn Vickery induced a 5-4-3 double play off Kennedy's bat in the top of the fifth, but the damage was done in Kennedy's other plate appearances in a 3-for-4 day at the plate.
“She never came up with a runner on second so we could just walk her," Bishop Mac coach Laura Harms said. "We had to go at her. She’s a really good hitter, obviously, so you have to keep it low. But she can hit everything."
If there was a way for Kennedy to top her performance at the plate, she did it in the field. She picked off a runner at second base to end the bottom of the first inning. In the second, she fielded a throw from right fielder Gabbie Koslofski at home plate and tagged out Bishop Mac's Kenna Kleinert in a rundown. The first out of the third inning came from Kennedy when she caught Leigha Campe stealing second base.
In the fifth inning, Bailey Davis' throw sailed over the head of first baseman Alexis Rhoades. Kennedy was backing up the play, plucked the ball out of the air and tagged Jaelyn Vickery, who rounded the base but stopped.
“I feel like today was pretty dang good for me," Kennedy said. "I feel like I played really good defense behind the plate."
After Kennedy hit into a double play for the first two outs of the top of the fifth, Eades reached thanks to an error on the pitcher, but twisted her ankle at first base. She suffered the same injury on Friday. Eades stayed in the game and sprinted around the bases after Wrigley's RBI double to deep center.
“We just talked about getting two runs better and that was our inning to get it," Eades said. "I wanted that lead. I was telling myself, ‘I’m getting in there. I’m not stopping.’"
It was the perfect way for Wrigley to atone for a pair of errors early in the game, one of which allowed a Bishop Mac runner to score.
“I knew I needed to relax because I was really tense and I was in my own head today," Wrigley said. "I knew my team needed me and I needed to pick them up because we had two outs."
The rest of the offense was powered by Kennedy. Most agreed it was the best all-around game they had seen someone play, but Wrigley offered an alternative.
“I’ve seen Dayna play a game as good as that," Wrigley said. "Dayna is just a really good player. She gets us all pumped up, obviously those plays are amazing. ISU is getting a good one."