After the Brookfield Little League 12-Under all-star softball team lost its opening game of the Illinois state tournament, Mia Melendez and her teammates had one thing on their minds.
“We wanted to keep going and make history for our team. We wanted to keep going and keep staying together and playing with each other,” Melendez said.
With three straight victories in finishing third in the double-elimination bracket format, Brookfield achieved the first state tournament victories by any Brookfield softball team in at least a decade.
Team members were Cameron Fox, Sienna Giampietro, Katelyn Hamilton, Aurea Hilgenberg, Nina Johnsen, Eleanor Kowynia, Amanda Krueger, Melendez, Bella Nasti, Brailyn Naylor, Alyssa Norman, Anabel Olesiak, Amelia Pytel and McKenna Toland. The manager was Lisa Hilgenberg.
Brookfield went 3-0 in winning the Little League District 9 championship and clinched the title by beating LaGrange 4-2. In 2021, seven players helped Brookfield’s 10-Under team win the District 9 championship – Hilgenberg, Kowynia, Krueger, Nasti, Naylor, Pytel and Toland.
“About half of them have been playing together since they were 6,” Lisa Hilgenberg said. “They are the most supportive, feisty group of girls I’ve ever coached. They don’t quit and it’s been an honor to coach them and watch them grow up on and off the field.”
Brookfield especially showed determination in its third state victory July 19 by outlasting River Forest 5-4 in seven innings after trailing late. Brookfield then was eliminated in the consolation bracket final 5-1 on July 20 by Beardstown, which beat Evergreen Park twice July 21 to capture the state title.
Brookfield lost its opener to Evergreen Park and then beat Clear Ridge 8-1 and Plainfield 14-2 in four innings.
Against River Forest, Brookfield tied the game 4-4 to force extra innings and took the lead in the top of the seventh on an over-the-fence home run by Melendez, who pitched the first six innings. Fox relieved and earned the save, allowing a leadoff double and then striking out the next three hitters.
“We never gave up, hung our heads,” Melendez said. “Especially since some of our players were friends with River Forest, we really wanted to win. So did they so we were not going to go down without a fight.”
The team had added experience and motivation from last year’s 10U team going 0-3 at state in a pool-play format. Thirteen players even balanced their all-star commitments with traveling teams.
“I think winning the 10U district [last year] left them all wanting more and gave them ambition to come back and play for two teams in one season, to go after the state title with their friends,” Lisa Hilgenberg said.
Success could continue considering 11 players remain age-eligible for 12U next year. This was Melendez’s final season of 12U.
“It was a nice way to go out with all of my friends and the team, too. We all tried our hardest and all had the same passion for the sport,” Melendez said. “Of course, we were bummed to not make it all the way, but we reflected back. Not winning a [state] game last season to being third in state made us all feel really happy and proud of ourselves.”