Times Staff Reporter
When Rend Lake College, a junior college located in Ina, IL, recalls the most successful season in school history, it will do so knowing it was aided by the impressive contributions of a Northview High School graduate.
Jaymie Cowell came to the school in 1995, a year after she had helped lead Northview all the way to the IHSAA state championship game, where it was defeated by Center Grove, 10-3. While at Northview, Cowell never hit less than .444 in her career and was the senior MVP of the team while earning two Gold Glove awards.
Due in large part to a stellar performance by the Northview grad, Rend Lake's softball program saw levels of success it had never achieved.
The Warriors had the best season in school history during the 1995-96 season, finishing 46-21, and securing the school a spot in the National Junior College Athletic Association's Women's National Fast-Pitch Softball Tournament for the first time. They went 1-2 in the double elimination tournament.
Cowell was a revelation that season, setting school records in hits (95), doubles (24) and home runs (17). For her efforts, Cowell was an NJCAA All-American selection, and also participated in the 1996 Canada Cup International Tournament, an annual all-star competition in South Surrey, British Columbia.
Cowell's second season at RLC was even more impressive, as she broke her own hits (112) and doubles (31) record while setting new records for runs scored (87) and walks (39). Despite even better numbers across the board, Cowell was only named a Second-Team All-American, as an opposing coach left her name off his All-Region ballot in order to increase the chances of one of his own players being named to the First Team.
After completing two years of junior college, Cowell went on to play at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
For all her individual accomplishments, Cowell was a first-ballot inductee to the Rend Lake College Sports Hall-Of-Fame in 2003.
As for the team, it was highly competitive throughout the season, as six of their losses were by one run. They were also clutch in various close contests, which included a 2-1 win against John A. Logan College in the sectional final.
After sweeping three sectional foes, the Lady Warriors opened Region XXIV play with 4-2 victories over both Parkland and defending champ/host Illinois Central, winner of 10 of the last 11 regionals, 15 in all since 1976.
"Going into the second day undefeated was huge," Ellingsworth said. "Beating Illinois Central in our second game -- behind a pair of Nicole Murray triples, which chased in three runs -- set the tone."
ICC earned a rematch the next day by eliminating Logan, 4-3, with the potential tying and winning runs left stranded in the seventh. The Rend Lakers were within two outs of sweeping again with a 1-0 lead, thanks to Cowell's fourth-inning home run. But a sacrifice bunt, followed by two RLC errors, led to a startling 2-1 come-from-behind win for the East Peoria dynasty.
The group Ellingsworth would describe much later as "a team that refused to lose" was nevertheless devastated. "Illinois Central won that first championship game to force a second [in the double-elimination tournament] and it was like all of our players' favorite aunt had just died. They were crying and carrying on like it was over. I looked over and asked [Assistant Coach] Ronnie [Ressel], 'How are we ever going to get this team ready to play again?
"Then it was like turning on a light switch. When it came time to play, one of the kids -- I really am not sure which one it was -- told everyone in a loud voice, 'OK, let's go take what is ours,' and that is exactly what they did!"
Logan's players and coaches stuck around to lend moral and vocal support to their Southern Illinois rivals in a hostile environment.
"Coach Donnie Gines even let us use their bus to keep warm -- it was cold and wet [and approaching midnight]. It meant a lot to me and to our players.
To commemorate the success of the 1995-96 season, the Warriors squad will be inducted into Rend Lake College's Sports Hall Of Fame, in a ceremony at the James "Hummer" Waugh Gym on the schools campus. The ceremony will take place on Nov. 7 at 6 p.m.
-- Bob Kelley, retired Rend Lake College Sports Information Director, also contributed to this story.