by Bob Kelley, retired RLC Sports Information Director
INA, Ill. - Little wonder why the 1995-96 Softball Team was inducted into the Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame one year ago.
The Lady Warriors were 31-13 in the Spring - a then-record 46-21 overall - and captured their first Region XXIV Tournament title in dramatic fashion over perennial power Illinois Central, followed by an opening-game victory in their first-ever appearance in the National Junior College Athletic Association National Fast-Pitch Championships in Hutchinson, KS.
That well-balanced, freshman-dominated club included NJCAA First-Team All-America honoree Jaymie Cowell, an infielder/outfielder from Brazil, IN; Second-Team All-America Centerfielder Nicole Murray (Herrin), and RLC Sports Hall of Fame Inductee/Pitcher Angela Robinson (Class of 2009).
And do not forget Pitcher Amanda Perjenski (Mt. Vernon). Her former coach, Dave Ellingsworth, and her Juco alma mater certainly have not forgotten her.
"If we don't have both (pitchers Robinson and Perjenski), we don't have the record we had and we don't have the post-season success we had," stated Ellingsworth. "They just complemented each other so well. That's a career deal, to have those two on the same team."
Perjenski will join two-time All-American Cowell (Class of 2003) and Robinson as individual inductees in the RLC Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night, November 6, when the 12th class is welcomed. Her "teammates," in this case, will include Baseball Catcher Chad Stombaugh (1986-88), Cross-Country/Distance Runner Justin Kunz (2003-05), the National Championship Indoor Track 4000M Distance Medley Relay Team (2002) and the 1988-89 Region XXIV and Great Rivers Athletic Conference Champion Men's Basketball Team coached by Mitch Haskins.
Only 25 individuals and six other teams have been granted official entrance into the RLC Sports Hall of Fame in the 11 previous ceremonies since 2000.
A former coaching rival once bemoaned his plight to the lucky Ellingsworth. "For crying out loud," said the late Warren Koch of Shawnee Community College, "with those two kids on the mound, all you have to play for is one run and you have a pretty good chance to win."
"That was about right," admits Ellingsworth. "If we scored two runs or more, we liked our chances."
If the two hurlers - and the team - needed each other as much as they did to succeed, Perjenski also had her teammates to thank. In particular, Catcher Shanna Tolbert (Johnston City), whose defensive prowess enabled Perjenski to thrive with her specialty pitch. The groundball-inducing pitcher also relied heavily on an infield consisting of shortstop Tanya Bird (Pinckneyville), third baseman Kimmy McNeal Herrin), Cowell or Jaime Bernard (Wayne City) at second and Robinson or Cowell at first.
"We never felt we had a No. 1 or a No. 2 pitcher, but we almost always went with Angela the first game of a doubleheader and Amanda second," Ellingsworth said. "That set things up best. Angela used her fastball who counted on spotting her pitches and utilizing a riseball to her advantage.
"Perjenski threw everything down . . . down, down, down. Everything of hers dropped; she would get swinging strikes on balls in the dirt.
Even her fastball dropped. Perjenski was hard to catch, but Shanna did an excellent job of blocking balls and keeping it in front of her. I don't remember ever worrying about her throwing that ball in the dirt with runners on base, because we knew it would be caught or blocked . . . it almost never got by Tolbert."
Perjenski was All-GRAC, All-Region XXIV and All-Region XXIV Tournament as a freshman, completing all 21 spring starts and going 4-0 in the post-season until the finals, when she lost to 33-3 Lakeland (OH), 4-2, and was saddled with the decision in a 6-5, nine-inning loss to 60-9 Indian Hills (IA) in relief. She was 3-3 at bat with five RBIs in the Sectional opener and tossed 13 innings in two Region wins over mighty Illinois Central before giving up an earned run. She also hit .300 that season.
As a sophomore, she was a repeat All-GRAC pick and helped the Lady Warriors improve on record standards which still stand - 29-5 in the fall, 32-16 spring, 61-21 overall. Her 12-4 fall mound mark was built on six shutouts, including five of her last seven starts, and setbacks only to four-year opponents.
The get-down-and-dirty hurler graduated with a career record 285 strikeouts and No. 2 to Robinson in wins (44-25) in 75 appearances covering 449 1/3 innings. She also ranked second with 62 complete games and 14 shutouts and was third with her 1.48 ERA.
In single-season terms, she rated No. 1 in shutouts with 10 in 1996-97 and boasted two of the three top highs in strikeouts with a record-156 as a freshman and 129 as a sophomore. She also rates 2-3 in appearances (a high of 38 as a soph), 2-4 in complete games (32 as a freshman) and innings pitched (233 2/3 as freshman); 3-4 in wins (24-11 as soph), and No. 4 in ERA (1.43 as soph).
The move from high school to college made a big difference for Perjenski. One reason was the better defense behind her. Another was the change in distance back then, from 40 feet to home plate to 43 feet at the college level, and the fact she got stronger.
"I remember telling her that first fall that she would get to the sixth inning with a two-run lead and she would start looking for ways to lose. Once she learned it was her game at that point, she didn't lose very often. Once she learned to use her defense - get that ground ball and let her teammates get the out or make the doubleplay - she was very hard to beat," commented the Lady Warrior coach with 700-plus wins.
"I saw the movement on her ball and the way she kept it down (in high school)," he added. "I really didn't know if she could make that transition in distance from high school to college, but I felt she could get us some wins. But I sure didn't know she would be as good as she was. I didn't project her to be a kid who could take us to the national tournament as she did."
Added Ellingsworth: "She could demoralize batters with that swinging strike in the dirt. Wabash Valley Coach Paul Schnarre told me his team would prepare for her by setting their pitching machine to throw hard drop balls in the dirt."
Perjenski and Robinson made Ellingsworth and Pitching Coach Ronnie Ressel "look pretty good. They made us look a lot smarter than we were. I would just hand 'em the ball and say, 'Go out and win,' and they did. Both of their ERAs were unbelievable, and they were great at keeping you in games and eating up innings. I may have had to more, but I only remember having to change pitchers one time . . . in the third game at Nationals against Indian Hills (an extra-inning affair)."
Whereas Robinson was a more deliberate pitcher who thought nothing of going behind the rubber and thinking about what she was going to throw, Perjenski was the opposite.
"They were two totally different personalities," Ellingsworth recalled. "But they knew for the team to win, both of them had to win and neither felt she was more important than the other. I never got the sense they were trying to compete with one another.
"There were no ego problems. They just wanted to win."
Continued Ellingsworth, "Amanda would say, 'Stab that finger (sign) down and I'll throw it.' She really worked fast. Unlike Angela, who would try to stay 1-2 pitches ahead in her mindset, Amanda was more like, 'Just give me the ball and I'll throw it.' Both approaches worked well."
Perjenski's induction into the RLC Sports Hall of Fame, in the opinion of Ellingsworth, brings closure for the Lady Warrior National Championship qualifiers.
"Jaymie (Cowell) was a legitimate All-American two years in a row and was voted in her first year of eligibility (Murray does not qualify because she did not return for her sophomore season). Angela made it in last spring, and the team itself was inducted last November.
"But that team could not have accomplished what it did without both pitchers. I have always felt Amanda was just as deserving. In my mind, this completes the honors or that team and those players."
Four Lady Warriors signed the fall of their sophomore years with Union University (TN) - batterymates Perjenski and Tolbert, McNeal and Rightfielder Kelley McCree (Herrin) - but three of the four left after one season. Perjenski, a nurse today who has coached summer league softball teams in her hometown, finished her playing career at Eastern Illinois University.