After defeating Hersey, 3-1, Monday in the Class 4A Barrington Supersectional, Huntley's softball team posed for pictures and snapped selfies in front of the center-field fence at Barrington's Field of Dreams.
Not long after, the Red Raiders were greeted by fans, family and alumni for more photos and fun celebrating the team's first trip to state.
"The support of our fans and community is amazing, and it's a big difference having an 11th man out there being loud and noisy," Raiders coach Mark Petryniec said. "We play for everyone who got the program to where it is and put Huntley on the map. Now, it’s time for the rest of the state to meet us."
The Raiders (33-7) make their state debut at 5:30 p.m. Friday against Marist (36-2) at the EastSide Centre in East Peoria in the second semifinal of the Class 4A state tournament. The winner advances to Saturday’s championship game against Joliet West or St. Charles East at 3:30 p.m. The third-place game starts at 1 p.m.
The Raiders have already set the program record for wins in a season and enter the state tournament with 17 straight wins. Marist is making its fourth state appearance since 2012 and carries a 35-game winning streak into the state tournament. The RedHawks won state titles in 2012 and 2015 and took fourth in 2017.
Marist has allowed only two runs all postseason, both coming in the RedHawks' 10-2 win over Geneva in the Marist Supersectional. Marist still has yet to lose to a team from Illinois and is nationally ranked by MaxPreps.com.
"They're the No. 1 team in the state, let's go," said Petryniec, who is 347-221 in 15-plus seasons at Huntley. "They’re going to get the best we got, and I know we’re going to get the best they got. They’re a big-hitting lineup. We’ll put the work in and get ready for it."
Marist is led by Northwestern commit and senior pitcher Angela Zedak, who is batting .555 with 22 home runs, 13 doubles, 84 RBIs and 53 runs. In the circle, she is 21-1 with a 0.92 ERA. The RedHawks average almost 10 runs a game and have allowed only 55 runs in 38 games.
"The key to beating them is the same it's been all year long," four-year starter Sofia Tenuta said. "We're going to need every single person to win this game. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a whole team effort. It's been a whole team effort all year."
Huntley is led by pitcher Briana Bower, a hard-throwing sophomore who is 25-5 with a 1.14 ERA and 339 strikeouts in 197 1/3 innings, but the Raiders have received key hits and plays from just about everyone during their postseason run.
Junior third baseman Teagan O'Rilley (.437 batting average, 39 runs, 40 RBIs) has a program-record 15 homers, Tenuta (.413, 12 homers, 11 doubles) has a team-high 48 RBIs, and senior first baseman Grace Kutz (.427) has 11 homers, 41 RBIs and 32 runs.
Sophomore left fielder Marley Reicher leads the team in runs (40) and stolen bases (36), senior center fielder Kendra Mitchell has 33 runs and 24 steals and freshman second baseman Reese Hunkins (.424) has 27 RBIs and 16 steals.
Sophomore Lindsey Morgan has stepped in at catcher for Tenuta, who suffered a rotator cuff injury earlier in the season and has only been hitting, and has knocked in five runs during the postseason.
Sophomore Abigail Simandl has 24 steals and 24 runs, and junior shortstop Victoria Schulte has 15 steals and 21 runs.
In the supersectional win against Hersey, it was Huntley's No. 8 and No. 9 hitters, Reicher and senior right fielder Taylor Zielinski (20 runs, 13 steals), who helped give the Raiders a 2-1 lead. Both reached base on bunts in the third inning and scored.
"They’re not a bottom of the lineup. It’s just where we put them," Petryniec said after Monday's state-clinching win. "Marley, (Zielinski) and Kendra have been getting it done and setting the table for us. Anytime you put the ball in play, you force the defense to make a play and good things happen."
Huntley will need another complete team effort to get past Marist.
"It's one game at a time," Tenuta said. "Our theme and hashtag all year has been 'Why not us?' After winning the sectional final, I had such a good feeling about our team going all the way (to East Peoria). We came together as a team and accomplished that goal."
"Our girls are ready and focused," Petryniec added. "They have a mindset to do something that’s never been done before at Huntley. They’ve embraced that, and they’ve been putting the work in. They don’t get fazed in big situations."
Class 4A State Tournament
Semifinal 1: Joliet West vs. St. Charles East, 3 p.m.
Semifinal 2: Huntley vs. Marist, 5:30 p.m.
Third place: Loser Semifinal 1 vs. Loser Semifinal 2, 1 p.m.
Championship: Winner Semifinal 1 vs. Winner Semifinal 2, 3:30 p.m.