DeKALB -- Kristi Gandy had no intention of losing a grip in the biggest game in Grayslake North softball history.
So the Knights pitcher toted her own personal rosin bag, making sure to retrieve it from the pitching circle and carry it back to the dugout after each inning she threw.
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"This dirt, it's a synthetic dirt, so you don't get the same effect," Gandy said of the grainy, artificial, dark red dirt that covers the infield at Northern Illinois University's Mary M. Bell Field.
When the dirt (real and otherwise) settled Tuesday, Gandi refused to lose her composure, despite Grayslake North losing 2-1 to defending state champ Marengo in the Class 3A NIU supersectional.
A year ago, Marengo beat Grayslake North 7-0 in the Grayslake Central sectional final en route to winning the Class 3A state championship.
"At least it was a better game today," Gandy, taking one more look back at the scoreboard beyond the fence in left field, said with a smile and her head held high.
"I'd say we definitely came back fighting," Knights right fielder and fellow senior Megan Mertins said.
While Marengo (35-5) advanced to Friday's 9:30 a.m. state semifinal against Providence Catholic at the Eastside Centre in East Peoria, Grayslake North finished out the best season in the young program's history at 25-9-1.
"We had a good season," Gandy said.
A "great" season was more like it. The Knights established a school record for wins, won their first Fox Valley Conference Fox Division championship and captured a sectional title for the first time, as well.
And they came that close to stunning a highly disciplined and fundamentally sound Marengo team featuring Division-I bound pitcher Lindsay Melson. The Illinois-Chicago-bound Melson allowed only 1 hit and struck out 14 Knights.
Marengo scored twice in the bottom of the fifth to erase a 1-0 deficit, as it finally broke through against Gandy, who for the second straight game allowed at least one baserunner in every inning.
Grayslake North's ace walked ninth-place hitter Shae Karsten to start the Marengo fifth, before Winona State-bound Reed Karsten (Shae's older sister) singled into center field. A walk to Abby Kissack loaded the bases.
"In my opinion, those pitches were extremely close," Gandy said. "You know what? There's nothing you can do about those. I did the best I could today."
Marengo's lefty-hitting third baseman Stephanie Cartwright then drove a pitch over the head of Mertins, who got turned around but still nearly made a spectacular catch. Shae Karsten was ready to tag up and would have scored easily, even if Mertins had caught the long drive.
Cartwright wound up on second with a double, which scored the Karsten sisters. The ball landed near the 200-foot sign in right field.
"It touched the end of my glove," Mertins said. "I lost sight of the ball because I had to turn around. Then I reached for it."
"It was inside," Cartwright said of Gandy's pitch. "She kept throwing outside so I figured I'd foul them off and then hopefully get something inside."
Gandy had pitched out of trouble in the first four innings, as Marengo stranded five runners in its previous three frames. Knights catcher Brooke Tracy threw out an Indian trying to steal to end the first.
"In that bases loaded, nobody out (situation), we were so confident that we were going to hold them," Grayslake North coach Molly Jones said. "But that third baseman (Cartwright) had a really nice hit to right field."
Gandy loaded the bases in the fifth again when she hit Megan Semro. But Gandy prevented further damage by getting a strikeout, forceout at home and flyball to left fielder Courtney Peterson.
Grayslake North had taken a 1-0 lead in the fourth when Jessica Davis singled with Mariah Gentile (courtesy-running for Gandy, who had walked) on second base. Gentile rounded third and was held by Jones, but when the throw from right field sailed to the backstop, Gentile sped home and scored.
Davis had fouled off a couple of pitches before lining 3-2 pitch into right-center. Before Davis' hit, Melson had struck out nine of the first 14 hitters she faced.
"You got to battle," Davis said. "I wanted something good to hit. I just had to wait. I was trying to keep my hands straight to the ball and (make) a short and quick swing."
Marengo threatened again in the sixth, stranding two more runners. The Indians, who left 10 runners on base, didn't need an insurance run, as Melson retired the final nine Knights she battled.
"They're definitely very good, solid," Cartwright said. "Hitting, they kept putting pressure on. Defense, they kept putting pressure on."
Grayslake North loses six seniors in four-year varsity starters Gandy and Tracy, second baseman Davis, Mertens, left fielder Peterson and first baseman Christina Freese. Each was a starter.
"It's a really special group of seniors," said Jones, who earlier was fighting back tears when summarizing her team's season. "All six contributed in many ways."