Third baseman Emily Joseph (above) was among eight seniors on the Lyons Township softball team, and one of three who were four-year starters. Photo by Andy Bryant

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Lyons Township High School senior softball pitcher Lily Hanafin faced bases loaded and no outs in a scoreless battle with defending IHSA Class 4A state champion Marist in the sectional final on June 3.

Hanafin got an infield grounder for a force out at home. Hanafin then struck out the next two hitters to keep the game deadlocked.

“You can’t focus on what’s around you. You have to put that out of your mind and just focus on the pitch you’re throwing and make it the best pitch you can,” said Hanafin, a George Washington recruit.

The RedHawks scored an unearned run in the seventh to finally prevail 1-0. The greatest season in years for the Lions (21-4) ended with being shut out for the first time. They stranded five runners, two on second base. 

“We came in knowing it was going to be a pitch-off and a super, super hard game,” said shortstop Ava Paganis, a four-year varsity starter along with Hanafin and third baseman Emily Joseph.

Marist (28-5-1) began the seventh with No. 7 hitter Caroline O’Brien reaching on an infield error. Then Maia Pietrzak laid down a sacrifice bunt. As Pietrzak beat the throw to first, O’Brien continued toward third. When that throw got away, O’Brien scored to end the game.

“We couldn’t ask for a better game – head to head, nail to nail where every pitch matters,” LTHS coach Nikki Paluch said. “They just executed on the last play and we did not.” 

The Lions got their wish since the preseason, a share of their first conference title since 1990 and reaching sectionals for the first time since 2017.

Hanafin and Marist senior pitcher Brooke McNichols, who will play at Florida International, were spectacular. Hanafin allowed five hits with nine strikeouts and one walk. McNichols allowed three hits and struck out 13, including nine of the first 11 batters and the final two. Both teams had two errors.

Paganis, senior Anna Bryant and junior Makenna Kotor singled. In the fifth, Hanafin reached on an error and Kotor singled with one out, but McNichols got a strikeout and infield ground out.

In the sixth, junior Tess Meyer reached on an error and moved to second on Bryant’s two-out single. McNichols notched another strikeout and retired the side 1-2-3 in the seventh.

Meyer grew up in Palos Hills and had her brothers in attendance, one of whom attended Marist.

“I’m so glad we got to play them. That was my goal this season,” Meyer said.