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Softball: ‘We are ready’ Newark set to make state tournament debut, face defending champs in semifinal

To Kaitlyn Schofield, Newark softball is truly a family affair.

Her older sisters, Alyssa and Emily, both starred at the high school before her. Kaitlyn’s dad, Tim, is in his fifth season as head coach. Alyssa is on the staff as an assistant coach.

The family, and softball program, has been knocking on the door for a postseason breakthrough. Newark for five straight postseasons from 2016-2021 won a regional title, only to lose in sectionals.

They busted through this year, in a big way.

Led by junior two-way star Schofield, the Norsemen won the school’s second sectional title – first since 2004 – last weekend. And after a supersectional win Monday, Newark will be in Peoria this weekend for its first state tournament appearance.

Newark (31-3-1) plays defending Class 1A state champion Illini Bluffs (18-2) at 10 a.m. Friday at the Louisville Slugger Complex in Peoria.

“I went and watched probably all of my sister’s games going into high school, and being able to step up to that position, to where they both were, to carry through and take Alyssa along the ride with us, it’s been pretty awesome,” Kaitlyn Schofield said. “Our family, and our team has been working toward this for a long time.”

Schofield, who shared pitching duties with Taylor Kruser and Kodi Rizzo during the regular season, has tag-teamed with Rizzo throughout the playoffs.

Schofield is also a centerpiece for a prolific Newark offense that scores nine runs per game, is hitting .341 as a team and has smashed a staggering 37 home runs.

Schofield, who hits leadoff, is hitting .440 with 10 homers, 11 doubles, 54 runs scored and 38 runs batted in. Sophomore Danica Peshia is batting .381 with eight homers, 36 runs scored and 37 RBIs and fellow sophomore Ryan Williams is batting .432 with 12 doubles, five homers, 43 runs scored and 36 RBIs.

Eight of Newark’s nine starters has homered this year.

“It comes from any position in the lineup. At any given time somebody has the power to put it out. This is the best offensive team, one through nine, that I’ve had,” coach Schofield said. “We’ve had some other players with big years and big performances, but one through nine I’ve never had the depth we have.”

“I don’t think there are a lot of teams that can hit it as well as we do,” Peshia said. “If one person is struggling, another one will pick them up.”

Flanagan/Woodland-Cornell's Emma Highland bear hands the ball to throw out Newark's Danica Peshia in the Class 1A Sectional title game on Saturday, May 28, 2022 in Dwight.

Flanagan/Woodland-Cornell’s Emma Highland bear hands the ball to throw out Newark’s Danica Peshia in the Class 1A Sectional title game on Saturday, May 28, 2022 in Dwight. (Scott Anderson/)

Newark’s offense has scored in double figures in 18 games, although it has been slowed some as the pitching has improved in the playoffs.

That’s where Schofield and Rizzo come in.

Schofield is 10-1 with a 1.21 earned run average and 119 strikeouts in 75 innings, and Rizzo is 10-2 with a 1.47 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 62 innings.

“Me and Kodi have been playing together for as long as I can remember,” Schofield said. “We’ve always been that duo, in travel and in high school. She works her offspeed well and I think with her offspeed and and then me coming in with faster fastballs, it throws hitters off.”

Newark, ranked seventh in the final Illinois Coaches Association Class 1A poll, has worn the favorite hat throughout the playoffs.

But that will change Friday.

No. 1-ranked llini Bluffs won the Class 1A state championship last spring after taking second in the previous postseason, in 2019. The Tigers are led by Lewis recruit Kristen Graham, who is batting .644 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs on the season.

“I know they’re the returning state champs, they know they’re the returning state champs, but they haven’t played us,” coach Schofield said. “I told my girls to go into the game blind. Go do what you have all year and don’t change your approach just because of who you are playing. I think mentally we are ready.”

It will be Newark’s first time at state, but girls like Peshia have plenty of experience playing at the Louisville Slugger complex from travel.

Newark will be going for the school’s fourth state title across all sports. Casey-Westfield will play Forreston in the second semifinal.

“These four teams at state, they’re down there for a reason,” Peshia said. “They are returning state champs, but it’s a new team. We’re coming here to try to to knock them off.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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