The Brookfield Little League 12-Under all-star softball team has reached the state championship game. Team members are (from left) McKenna Toland, Amanda Krueger, Cam Fox, Alyssa Norman, Quinley Costello, Amelia Pytel, Brailyn Naylor, Aurea Hilgenberg, Kate Hamilton, Bella Nasti, Sienna Giampietro and Hannah Buscemi. Elly Kowynia is not pictured. | Provided

Brookfield Little League 12-Under softball all-star pitcher Cam Fox and catcher Aurea Hilgenberg first became battery mates when they were 7 with coaching from Fox’s mother, Julie.

They and several teammates have continued to progress together.

“This is basically our team that we’ve always had. We’ve been with each other for years,” Hilgenberg said. “We have worked really hard to be a really good team. And we are a really good team.”

Brookfield played Evergreen Park for the state championship on July 18 in Burbank, after the Landmark’s print deadline, after beating defending state champion Beardstown 7-0 in the semifinals on July 17. Brookfield captured the District 9 championship by beating La Grange 7-1 on July 13.

Team members are Hannah Buscemi, Quinley Costello, Fox, Sienna Giampietro, Kate Hamilton, Hilgenberg, Elly Kowynia, Amanda Krueger, Bella Nasti, Brailyn Naylor, Alyssa Norman, Amelia Pytel and McKenna Toland. The manager is Lisa Hilgenberg-Buhle with coaches Kevin Krueger and Angelo Nasti.

“When they came in third in state last year, they set their expectations on winning state and playing on TV in the Central Region finals,” Hilgenberg-Buhle said. 

“This is a crew that feels like they’re never out of it. They feel like they’re in it to win it until the game is over. And a lot of these girls have been playing together since they were 6 or 7.” 

Last year, 11 of the same players helped Brookfield’s 12U team finish third at state with a 3-2 record in a double-elimination format of six-inning games.   

This year’s state tournament used two five-team pools with the top two finishers advancing to the semifinals. In this run, Brookfield is 8-0, going 4-0 to win its state pool after another 3-0 showing at the double-elimination districts. Evergreen Park, also undefeated so far at state, lost twice to Beardstown in last year’s state championship series. 

Brookfield reached the semifinals with pool wins over Rochelle 16-0 (3 innings) and Clear Ridge 10-3 on July 15 and Clarendon Hills 13-6 and Oglesby 11-0 (4 innings) on July 16. 

In the semifinals, Pytel pitched a complete-game two-hitter with 11 strikeouts and one walk. Pytel retired the first nine hitters in order. 

Hilgenberg had three hits and Hamilton and Pytel two apiece. 

Brookfield set the tone with three runs in the top of the first inning and moved ahead 5-0 in the third.

“[Pytel] had a fantastic day. She was pitching lights out. We had a lot of strong line drives, ground-ball hits that got them on base,” Kevin Krueger said. “They’ve been winning legitimate games playing against good teams and they’ve earned their spot [in the final].”

Fox pitched a gem in the regional clincher, a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts and three walks. LaGrange used an error and its one hit to score in the top of the first, but Brookfield scored twice in its half, once in the second and twice in the third to lead 5-1. Hilgenberg (double), Hamilton, Fox and Nasti each had two hits.

“It’s so much more [meaningful] when it’s this part of the game, the championship. I can do more [to help] and then we can just win it,” Fox said.

Brookfield had to be beaten by LaGrange twice thanks to winning their previous meeting 5-4 after trailing 4-0. In the bottom of the sixth, Giampietro tied the game with a home run and Fox delivered the walk-off run-scoring single.

Fox said she receives inspiration from her mother, who played softball at Illinois-Chicago; father Greg, who has coached baseball for years; and great grandmother Lorraine Bumgardner, once dubbed the Lou Gehrig of softball for her endless streak of games played.

Hilgenberg was excited that two of her inspirations were part of the regional celebration — grandpa Charlie and uncle Casey Schuenemann.

“I feel like when they come to my games, I play better almost because I want to show them how much I’ve improved from the last game or the last time,” Hilgenberg said.