Marist senior Payton Benoit’s at-bat in the second inning against Joliet Catholic Academy (JCA) didn’t quite go as planned.
With sophomore Bree Hanik leading off the frame with a single at Marist on April 26, Benoit’s objective was simple: move the runner over.
At least that was the plan.
“Honestly, at first, I missed my bunt—not going to lie,” Benoit said with a laugh.
Redemption was just moments away.
Benoit blasted a 2-run homer to right-center field to ignite a 6-run second inning for the RedHawks as part of a convincing 12-0 win in 5 innings in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
The home run was the first of Benoit’s varsity career.
“It was a nice pitch down the middle, and I turned on it,” Benoit said. “It felt good off my bat. It feels really good. My teammates were so happy for me. That was the best part of it all. I know they have my back.”
Marist’s high-powered offense piled up 15 hits against JCA, including 2 home runs. It drew 2 walks, and two batters were hit by a pitch.
On last year’s Class 4A state runner-up squad, Benoit, an Oak Lawn resident, played a supporting role off the bench. This year as a senior for the RedHawks, she’s become a staple in the batting order with consistent production.
“With such a good lineup, I know I can make an impact. It feels really good,” Benoit said. “It’s so much fun hitting in this lineup. Everyone bounces off of each other and picks each other up. It’s so fun seeing everyone succeed and be able to contribute to that.”
As a junior in 2022, Benoit appeared in 8 games off the bench. After her varsity milestone this year, Benoit was mobbed at home plate by her teammates.
Senior first baseman Eileen Donahue said Benoit has been close on numerous almost-overs—but not this time.
“I couldn’t be happier for Payton,” said Donahue. “She’s the sweetest teammate and is always cheering me on when I hit one. Every time she gets so close with warning-track power. Not today, she smoked it. It was awesome. I was so happy for her.”
The RedHawks have dealt with injuries that resulted in some lineup juggling, but the “next woman up” mentality has paid off.
Benoit said that, for her senior campaign, she’s focused on having fun and enjoying the ride.
“It’s just staying focused, working hard and not taking it too seriously,” Benoit said. “I try to get in there and have fun and try my best to help the team out.”
The RedHawks also got a homer from Donahue. She teed off on a 3-1 pitch later in the second for a 3-run bomb that extended Marist’s lead to 8-0.
Donahue said her homer was a long time coming after shaking off some struggles.
“For my expectations, I haven’t been doing as well as I wanted to,” Donahue said. “I haven’t been elevating the ball how I want to, so I get frustrated.”
On April 24, Marist defeated JCA 6-1. She’s typically a patient batter at the dish, but in the road win, Donahue swung at three first pitches.
Two days later in her first at-bat, she swung at a first-pitch, an RBI groundout. For her second at-bat, the stick wasn’t leaving her shoulder early.
“I’m taking this pitch, no matter what,” Donahue said with a laugh. “I got it to a 3-1 count and told myself that it was going to be a strike. I’m going to murder it, and I did.”
Donahue, a University of Illinois recruit and Mt. Greenwood resident, said her strongest at-bats come when she goes to the plate with a clear mind.
“When I feel good batting, I just don’t guess,” Donahue said. “I just go. I don’t think. When I’m in a slump, I just think, think, think. When I’m not, I go for it, and it comes naturally. I thought I had nothing to lose in that at-bat.”
In the 12-0 JCA win, other key contributors for Marist included juniors Caroline O’Brien (3 hits, 2 runs) and Camryn Lyons (RBI, run), seniors Maia Pietrzak (2 runs) and Izzy Cunnea (2 RBI, 2 doubles), sophomores Gabi Novickas (2 RBI, 2 hits) and Hanik (3 hits, run, RBI) and freshman Ellie Holmstrom (run).
In the circle, sophomore Gianna Hillegonds threw all 5 innings, allowing 4 hits and no walks with 6 strikeouts.
Last season in her freshman year, Hillegonds pitched behind senior ace Brooke McNichols, going 2-1 over 8 games in 20 innings pitched.
“It’s a lot of pressure. I was really nervous at the beginning of the year. I was coming up into that starter’s role,” Hillegonds said. “I played up, but I was also really excited. I feel like I’m doing all right. I’m concentrating on hitting my spots, just working super hard and practicing whenever I can.”
And while she hasn’t needed a ton of run support, she knows her offense has her back.
“I love the lineup so much. It’s so amazing,” Hillegonds said. “It’s so comforting to know if I have a bad inning that we can come in and know my team is going to score. It’s having that trust in them and knowing they’ll field behind me.”
McAuley Coach Colleen Phelan said she’s impressed by her squad’s chemistry through the first two months of the season.
“I truly believe in the importance of cohesiveness and all being on the same page,” Phelan said. “This group has that. That’s very, very dangerous. A team that believes in each other, cheers for each other is a team that could go a long way. We have very selfless players.”
Sorry, there are no recent results for popular commented articles.