Home News Claire Connelly, Mundelein advance to state

Claire Connelly, Mundelein advance to state

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A prodigious slugger like Mundelein junior first baseman Claire Connelly will never go out of style.

A team needs a lot of pieces to build a state contender, and the Mustangs seem to have them all, including lockdown ace Shae Johnson. But Connelly is a nearly unstoppable force in the middle of the lineup.

“I didn’t think I’d be near 20 home runs and batting .500, but I’ve just believed in myself, kept the swag and the confidence from last year and carried it into this year,” Connelly said. “My teammates believed in me, and that helps a lot, and I continue to crush the ball.”

Yes, she does. Connelly, who set the program’s single-season record with 20 home runs last year, didn’t hit one to set the career mark during the Class 4A Rosemont Supersectional on Monday. But she did deliver the go-ahead RBI single in the sixth inning as the Mustangs beat Huntley 2-1 at The Ballpark at Rosemont.

“Claire is our everything, a leader for us emotionally and obviously on offense,” Mundelein coach Heather Ryan said. “It’s exciting when she comes to bat and makes things happen.”

Connelly, who was batting .542 with a 1.584 OPS, 14 home runs and 69 RBIs entering the sectional final last week, went 2-for-3 to pace Mundelein (36-1), which will continue to pursue its first state title against Marist in the 4A semifinals at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria at 3 p.m. Friday. The Mustangs’ only other appearance in the state semifinals came in 1994.

Connelly’s hard ground ball up the middle scored leadoff hitter Kieley Tomas, who opened the sixth with a single and advanced to second on Karina Benes’ grounder to short.

“I wasn’t thinking about crushing the ball or hitting a home run,” Connelly said. “I was just thinking about putting the ball in play. There was a runner on base, so I needed to score them. I knew my teammates could have done it behind me, but I wanted to do it myself.”

Johnson (25-1) did it herself in the circle. She went the distance against Huntley (30-10), allowing seven hits and striking out nine. She stranded two runners in the bottom of the sixth and struck out Huntley’s cleanup hitter, Lyla Ginczycki, to end the game after Ava McFadden hit a two-out triple.

“We’ve worked so hard to get here,” Connelly said. “Most of us didn’t expect to get this far, and now we’re going to state. It’s a dream come true.”

Connelly’s piece of those dreams wouldn’t be achievable without her exhaustive amount of fine-tuning to perfect her craft. That included a session with her hitting coach, Eddie Acosta, on Monday morning. They had studied film that showed Huntley pitcher Gretchen Huber often stayed on the outside of the zone.

“Just to clean things up before the big game today, solidify my swing,” Connelly said. “That’s how I’ve been successful. We worked on outside pitches, and honestly she didn’t give me an outside pitch. She gave me my zone, my inside pitch, and I just took what she gave me. I was very aggressive.”

That’s a given when a player is batting over .500. But Connelly’s work ethic influences others in the program too.

“Claire is one of those kids where nothing is good enough,” Ryan said. “She always wants to make herself better. She is the epitome of hardworking and going after what she wants.”

In the present, that’s a state title. Getting that last win is something that barely eluded Connelly’s older brother, Dan, who was a junior catcher on the Mundelein baseball team that finished second in 4A in 2022. He just finished his freshman season at Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

“It’s inspiring for me to watch her ball out and do what she does,” Dan Connelly said. “She never hits a ball softly and is always so calm and patient. As much as she’s learned from me, I do the same learning from her.”

A key point Claire Connelly said she gleaned from her brother has nothing to do with launch angle or exit velocity.

“The one thing he will tell me is to have fun,” she said. “Don’t take this too seriously because it’s not going to last forever.”

Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter.



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