Grayslake North was well prepared for its Class 3A softball sectional semifinal game Wednesday afternoon against Richmond-Burton at Lakes.
The Knights built a 4-0 lead after three innings and were never seriously threatened as they rolled to a 6-1 victory over the Rockets to advance to the championship game Saturday at 11 a.m. against the winner of Thursday's Prairie Ridge-Chicago Northside contest.
Senior pitcher Kristina Gandy was the player of the game for Grayslake North (25-8-1). She fired a 5-hitter with 11 strikeouts and only 1 walk to help carry the Knights to the solid victory over Richmond-Burton (15-17).
Gandy's big game was more than pitching. It also featured a 3-for-4 performance at the plate with 3 RBI to send Grayslake North to the sectional championship game for a second straight season.
"I definitely felt I was hitting my spots, but I also knew I had the defense behind me so that loosened the noose a lot," said Gandy, who is one of six seniors on the team. "We definitely want to be here and all of the seniors have been on varsity for at least two years so it helps to have them supporting me."
Unlike their close 4-3 victory over the Rockets earlier in the regular season, the Knights set the tone early offensively Wednesday against Richmond-Burton pitcher Haylea Hoskins.
A two-out walk by Kelsey Borders was followed by Gandy's RBI double for a quick 1-0 lead before pinch-runner Mariah Gentile scored on an infield error for an early 2-0 edge. Borders had a huge game Monday with a grand slam, 2 doubles, and 7 RBI in Grayslake North's 14-4 win over Lakes for the Antioch regional title.
The Knights added 2 more runs on 3 hits in the top of the third as Gandy and teammate Christina Freese had RBI singles with Brooke Tracy, who had walked, and Gentile scoring the runs for a 4-0 advantage.
In the top of the fifth, Grayslake North's Jordyn Bowen reached base on a fielder's choice before eventually scoring on a two-out RBI single to right field by Gandy for a 5-0 lead.
Richmond-Burton managed to break up the shutout in the bottom of the fifth when Kathrine Kroll (2-for-3) led off with a bloop single down the right-field line, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Stephanie Pedley, and scored on a two-out single to center by Lily Mazzanti to cut the gap to 5-1.
"She (Gandy) was hitting her spots, her ball was moving, and her change-up was effective today," said Grayslake North coach Molly Jones, whose team had 10 hits and no errors. "That is Kristina Gandy to a tee -- she does it on the mound and she gets the job done at the plate so I was very proud of her today."
The Knights added an insurance run in the top of the sixth as Borders reached on an infield error before scoring on a two-out RBI double to deep left field by Nikki Livengood. Bowen had a triple to lead off North's 2-run third, but she was thrown out at the plate later in the inning.
"It's a positive year coming back from the beginning of the season and we turned it around," said Richmond-Burton coach Stephanie Rasmussen, whose team had 4 errors. "She (Gandy) came out determined to win and she did an awesome job keeping them guessing."
Borders wound up going 0-for-2 with a walk and 2 runs while No. 8 hitter Marli Kram was 2-for-4 with 2 infield hits for the Knights. Mazzanti was 2-for-2 with a walk for the Rockets.