Home News Sophia Zepeda keeps Mundelein in 3rd-place game

Sophia Zepeda keeps Mundelein in 3rd-place game


PEORIA — Mundelein junior Sophia Zepeda understandably didn’t expect to pitch this weekend.

Sophomore Shae Johnson has handled nearly three-quarters of the Mustangs’ innings this season, and Zepeda hadn’t returned to the circle since pitching three innings against Waukegan in the regional semifinals.

“I really didn’t think I would pitch again in the playoffs, so I wanted to take it all in that game against Waukegan,” Zepeda said. “I certainly didn’t think I would pitch (at state) because it has been that way this season.”

But Zepeda was called upon to replace Johnson during the Class 4A third-place game against Oswego at Louisville Slugger Sports Complex on Saturday, and she showed she was both ready and able, allowing only one run in 3 1/3 innings to keep the Mustangs within striking distance.

“She has such a calming presence after coming into the game in such a tough situation,” Mundelein coach Heather Ryan said. “She brought a different variety and is very precise with her pitches. She was so gutsy today.”

Meanwhile, the North Suburban Conference champion Mustangs finally kicked their offense into high gear after managing just five hits during their 7-1 loss to Marist in the semifinals on Friday and not scoring a run in the first two innings against Oswego.

Mundelein plated three runs in the third, two in the fourth and two in the fifth. But the Panthers managed to stave off the late comeback to win 12-7.

Junior first baseman Claire Connelly had two hits and scored two runs to pace the Mustangs (36-3), senior catcher Karina Benes drove in two runs and Johnson had two hits.

“It’s a very special group, and they are great competitors, and this game could’ve gotten out of control,” Ryan said. “But they fought and relied on and trusted each other. I’m so proud of them.

“These two losses at state are going to be big motivators for us. It’s going to make us hungry to get back here. I think some experience helped us because we’re so young.”

Zepeda, one of numerous players returning for the Mustangs next season, scattered four hits, didn’t walk any and struck out three in a stellar effort against the Panthers (29-10). She finished the season with an 11-0 record.

“My warmup today wasn’t the best, so I was a little nervous at first,” she said. “I just figured I’ve been training for this for a while regardless of the innings I’ve got or not. I just trusted what I practiced for all season.”

Connelly, who made a diving catch on an unassisted double play in the sixth inning, said Zepeda’s personality was ideal for the situation.

“Sophia shows no emotions,” Connelly said. “You never know when she’s upset or angry or when something doesn’t go her way. She always comes back and never lets anything affect her. That’s very important for a pitcher to have because she only thinks about the next pitch and next batter.”

Benes, one of just two seniors on the roster along with Lillian Scardicchio, praised Zepeda for her poise and resolve.

“Once she gets warmed up and gets her confidence, she’s lights out, and she can spot her pitches exactly where I want them to be and trusts I can call risky pitches,” Benes said. “I told her there was nothing to lose in our last game and to give it everything she had when she came into the game.”

Zepeda, a three-sport athlete, said she’s already looking ahead.

“I’m so excited because I think this will motivate us for next year,” she said.

Bobby Narang is a freelance reporter.

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