Glenbard South softball’s slogan this spring is simple, but oh so appropriate.
The Raiders were the first softball team in DuPage County to take the field this week. But what they desperately want, more than anything, is to be the last one standing in Class 3A come June 9.
“We need to be that winner at the end,” said Danielle Chitkowski, one of eight Glenbard South seniors. “That is my goal for the whole year. Bad game, I’ll shake it off — we have bigger things ahead of us.”
Glenbard South has come painfully close to the big prize.
Three of the last four years, the Raiders have advanced to the Class 3A state semifinals. Each time losses in that game made them settle to play for third place. The three semifinal losses came by a total of five runs, and in all three Glenbard South either led or was tied going into the sixth inning.
Last year the Raiders watched Marengo — a team they beat 10-0 during the season — get crowned state champions.
No doubt that is frustrating. But it also shows that the Raiders clearly belong on the big stage. A few bounces here and there, and we’re talking about Glenbard South playing for its fourth championship in five years instead of the first.
“We definitely think we have a chance to do it,” Raiders senior second baseman Brianna Meath said. “Everything does need to go your way just to get down there.”
Glenbard South isn’t the only area team with realistic aspirations of returning to East Peoria.
Lisle and Benet, who both made it last year in Class 2A and 4A, respectively, return their core players poised to make another run.
But Glenbard South has the most pieces in place. A softball state title is rare in DuPage County. Downers Grove South in 1993 is the only team to win one; only three others have so much as advanced to a championship game.
If the Raiders are to do it, this might be the year.
Seven of its starters are seniors, including Chitkowski on the mound and three-fourths of its infield. Chitkowski and Meath have started since their freshman year.
If they were carefree and not overly emotional after losses at state their freshman and juniors years, things are different now.
The clock is ticking.
“Being on a team that hasn’t got it done and being a senior, this is my last chance,” Chitkowski said. “I need to go out and give it my all. This is my last chance. I can say that for every one of my team.”
For Chitkowski and a core group of Raiders that have played ball together since they were 8 years old, this is their last hurrah as teammates. Others, like Meath, might not play in college.
“It’s my last year playing softball for good,” said Meath, admitting she hasn’t made her final decision on that.
“It’s sad, but a huge motivator,” chimed in Chitkowski, who will play at Syracuse next year.
Raiders coach Julie Fonda doesn’t want her girls getting ahead of themselves.
You go to state three out of four years, or two of three for these seniors, it’s easy to think you’re entitled to another trip to East Peoria. Just getting there is an incredible accomplishment.
They could get spoiled by that success, but Fonda isn’t about to let that happen.
“We’ve been blessed with the success we’ve had,” Fonda said, “but my job is to keep them grounded. We want to always be working toward our goals and not take those goals for granted.”
Chitkowski admitted “she’s been lucky” to play on such good teams.
It’s a long season with inevitable ups and downs. Losses will happen.
Glenbard South’s girls understand what they are building toward.
“We have to play well now,” Meath said, “but we want to be playing our best in May and hopefully June.”
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