LA GRANGE PARK – The loss of seven seniors to graduation raised the question of whether this might be a rebuilding year for the defending Class 3A state champion Glenbard South softball team.
Consider the answer a resounding no.
Despite a host of fresh faces on the diamond, aside from the senior trio of Steph Chitkowski, Hannah Taylor and Jane Trzaska, the Raiders find themselves in the exact same spot as a year ago after Monday's 2-1, 11-inning win over Fenwick in the Nazareth supersectional.
"I don't think it has anything to do with the players," Taylor said, "it has to do with the program. To graduate seven seniors and come back and be in the same situation as last year, it comes down to this program and our coaching."
Glenbard South is heading to the state semifinals for the fifth time in the past six years and will play at 10 a.m. Friday.
"This is our (seniors') third trip and it is still exciting," said Trzaska, who started in the pitching circle Monday and threw two innings. "It's hard to get down there. You have to play great teams to get down there and great teams once you are there. Winning it last year was great and we are hoping to do it again."
Trailing 1-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, the Raiders knotted up the score on a two-out infield single by Ashton Cattenhead. Then, after stranding runners in scoring position in the seventh, eighth and ninth frames, Glenbard South finally broke through in the 11th.
Taylor drew a leadoff walk and after heads-up base running, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. Pinch hitter Taylor Carli hit a sharp grounder up the middle which the Fenwick second baseman made a diving stop on, but the throw eluded the the first baseman allowing Taylor to score.
That made a winner out of Chitkowski, who allowed two hits and no runs in nine innings of relief.
"It's so exciting," Chitkowski said. "Last year's team, we kind of expected to be here. This year, we have all surprised each other so much. I can't wait to see what we are going to do downstate."
Count Raiders coach Julie Fonda as another who didn't necessarily see this coming.
"This absolutely never gets old," Fonda said. "Obviously winning is fun but these kids have all persevered. Graduating seven starters, if you would have told me in March that we'd be here, I would have said you are crazy.
"But they put it together and 99-percent of it is chemistry and believing in each other."
Glenbard South's run as defending Class 3A state champions appeared to be coming to an end Saturday before the Raiders found a little bit of magic.
Trailing 5-4 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Glenbard South pushed across a pair of runs, capped off by a two-out, RBI-single by Taylor which plated Trzaska.
Trzaska had tied the game with an RBI double earlier in the frame.
Taylor is the same player who drove in both runs with a single in the team's 2-1 win over Marengo in the state championship game last spring.
"She is completely clutch," Fonda said.