Nearly one year removed from the 2012 regional, one score still remains on the minds of the Illiana Christian softball team: Chicago Christian 3, Illiana Christian 2.
Vikings coach Mike Oppenhuis hasn’t forgotten. His daughter, senior starting pitcher Samantha Oppenhuis hasn’t let it go. Pitcher/first baseman Alexa Van Beek thinks about it every time she and her teammates take the field.
The No. 1-seeded Knights came into No. 2-seeded Illiana Christian’s own regional last May, and left with the regional championship. But thanks to an IHSA-granted waiver on Illiana Christian’s usual 1.65 enrollment multiplier for sports because it is a private institution, the Vikings will start to travel their road to revenge this week.
“What a game that was last year,” Mike Oppenhuis said. “It was a great game to be a part, but you always want to be on the opposite side of where we ended up in that one.
“As a coach, you never forget about those tough losses, especially on that type of stage, and especially on your own field.”
The Vikings set a team goal at the start of this season to gain retribution against Chicago Christian come postseason play. A 6-4 come-from-behind road victory on April 27 did little to subdue Illiana Christian’s desire for redemption.
“We beat them earlier in the season, and that was a great win for our team, but we want the big one,” Samantha Oppenhuis said. “The regional tournament is so important to us because of what’s at stake, but the fact that our biggest rivals will be there makes it that much more important.”
Van Beek said that the team’s overall attitude hasn’t changed since the final out was made in the title game a year ago.
“We’re pretty excited and determined not to let what happened to us last year happen this year,” Van Beek said. “Every time we practice or play a game, we give it our all because we want to be as prepared as possible for regionals.
“We’re working hard to make sure that the result is different this time around.”
Mike Oppenhuis said that after failing to play half of its scheduled games due to harsh weather this spring, his 9-9 team is hungry. He also emphasized the importance of not looking too far ahead in the regional tournament. To secure a spot in the title tilt, his No.1-seeded squad will need to defeat the winner of the CICS Ellison and CICS Longwood matchup in game two of the regional tournament at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
If that happens — and the Knights fight past Agricultural Science on Wednesday — the stage is set for the eager Vikings.
“I know it’s an important game for the girls, and heck, in my eight years here, this is about as big of a matchup as it gets,” Mike Oppenhuis said. “But the girls understand that we still need to take it one game at a time and work hard for where it is that we want to be at the end of the regional tournament.”