Huddled happily by home plate as a hot sun shone above them, Grayslake North's softball players sweated after sweating out a historic win for their program.
They then tried to obey a mother's request.
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"Try to look pretty and happy," Alison West, whose daughter is junior outfielder Emily West, said as she, along with other moms, pointed her camera.
The Knights' 2-1 victory over Prairie Ridge in Saturday's Class 3A sectional final at Lakes wasn't necessarily pretty but, oh, how happy were the winners.
"We haven't fully come to terms with it," an overwhelmed and smiley Kristi Gandy said after she won a pitchers duel. "It's so exciting. It means a lot to us, and I'm glad to be part of it."
It sure beat another tie with Prairie Ridge.
When the two Fox Valley Conference teams played each other on a bitterly cold day earlier this spring, they played to a 1-1 draw in seven innings.
"We weren't satisfied with that," Grayslake North coach Molly Jones said. "I think that we were ready to go today. We knew that we could hit their pitcher. We knew that we had great defense. Prairie Ridge is a great program, and we knew this would be a good game."
After beating Wolves hard-throwing lefty Kirsten Stevens, who struck out 15 batters in 6 innings of work, the Knights get to play in a game that they've never played in before in their six years as a program.
Grayslake North (25-8-1) will head to DeKalb on Tuesday to play in the 5 p.m. supersectional at Northern Illinois University's Mary Bell Field. The Knights will play the winner of Monday's Belvidere North sectional final between defending state champ Marengo, a 3-0 winner over Burlington Central on Saturday, and Sterling.
Prairie Ridge (23-9-1) didn't make it easy for Grayslake North. The Wolves stranded 9 runners, putting at least one on base in every inning against Gandy, who scattered just 5 hits but walked five while striking out six. The run she allowed was unearned.
"I was a little bit surprised about (the walks) because I think throughout the game she was in a zone," Jones said of her ace. "She was hitting her spots, and her ball was moving."
Prairie Ridge was dangerous to the end, when lefty leadoff hitter Kate Didier -- leading off an inning for the fourth time -- started the top of the seventh by drawing her second walk. Sammy Hempen then attempted to lay down her fourth straight sacrifice bunt, but third baseman Kelsey Borders threw a strike to second baseman Jessica Davis covering second for a forceout.
"I'm going to give props to Brooke Tracy, my catcher," Jones said. "She called that out right away. She knows Kelsey has a great arm. ... That was a great play."
Claire Bowman then hit a sharp grounder to Knights first baseman Christina Freese, who fired to shortstop Jordyn Bowen for a forceout at second. Gandy ended the postseason thriller by getting cleanup hitter Alyssa Doomis to pop out to Borders.
"I knew, no matter what, I was going to have defense behind me," Gandy said. "That made it a little bit easier to pitch. My team had my back the whole way."
Grayslake North's defense had come up big in the sixth, as well, when senior left fielder Courtney Peterson threw out pinch runner Erin Wing at home plate on Grace Jamieson's two-out single.
The wing of Prairie Ridge coach Mike Buck was turning rapidly as he sent Wing.
"I don't think I was breathing," Jones said.
Peterson's throw bounced in to Tracy, who tagged the late-arriving runner. Wing jarred the ball loose, but the umpire had already called the Wolf out.
"I just picked it up with my bare hand because it was rolling in like a groundball," Tracy said. "Then I just went and tagged her with the glove and the ball. The ball just wasn't in the glove. It was in my hand. ... She was out. I didn't think it was questionable."
Grayslake North, which took a 1-0 lead on Freese's RBI single in the second before Prairie Ridge got the run back on Bowman's single in the third, regained the lead in its half of the third.
Borders (1-for-2) was on second with two out when sophomore Nikki Livengood delivered her second hard hit in as many at-bats. Livengood (2-for-3), who doubled over the right fielder's head to lead off the second and scored, singled into center field, plating Borders.
"We all went into this game thinking small hits, put the ball in play and get on base," Livengood said. "I guess it worked."
Stevens allowed only 1 more hit the rest of the way, as Bowen legged out a groundball to second base leading off the fifth. Stevens yielded 6 hits, in total. The only batter she walked (Borders) scored.
Stevens, who fanned four batters in the sixth, struck out the last six batters she faced.
"She's a really good pitcher," Gandy said. "She's a lefty, and we normally don't see lefties. She has a good screwball and a good riseball."
"She was most definitely one of the stronger pitchers we've seen," Livengood said. "We all went in here a little nervous and a little scared. But then we got some nice hits and we were like, 'We can actually hit her,' and we ended up doing that."