EAST PEORIA -- He has been running the show for 32 seasons but hall of fame coach Ken Grams will be the first to tell you it's about the kids.
The kids, however, are saying this one is for the coach.
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All-state pitcher Dani Goranson and the Elk Grove Grenadiers would love to play in an Class 4A state softball championship game for their dedicated mentor of four decades.
First, however, they are focused on today's semifinal opponent from the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
Marist (25-15) and Elk Grove (31-8) will be meeting for the first time in Grams' 32 seasons when they face off in at 2:30 p.m. semifinal at the Eastside Centre in East Peoria.
The other semifinal at 5 p.m. features Bartlett (31-8) and defending 4A champ Moline (30-10).
Marist coach Denise Bromberek has coached the Redhawks for 10 seasons and owns a career record of 277-97.
Grams has 501 more wins, standing at 778-314.
"Marist is a very good team," Grams said. "They are scrappy and they have played a very similar schedule to us and our scores against the same teams were quite similar."
Both teams lost to York, Richards and Andrew and defeated Trinity by identical scores of 8-2 during the regular season.
Bromberek has used two pitchers this season with senior Kristin Klutcharch (16-11, 2.59 ERA) and junior Audra Hecker (8-4, 3.03 ERA).
Grams has also employed a pair on the mound with Goranson (25-7, 1.41 ERA, 284 strikeouts) and Andrea Starr (6-1, 0.00 ERA).
The Grens played a schedule that included one of the toughest conferences in the state and many other top-ranked teams.
"We've seen a lot of different styles and some very good players," Grams said. "I would think playing these games would be better than anything we could have done practicing. Our schedule has been a great help."
The Grens are hoping another great help is the fact they played on this field just two years ago when they lost to Fremd 2-1 in the semifinals.
Goranson (.487, 32 RBI, 10 home runs), first baseman Becca Walz (.284, 26 RBI), catcher Devan Parkison (.327, 23 RBI), center fielder Elisa Payne (.319, 15 RBI), shortstop Krista Soesbe (.339, 21 RBI), Megan Keegan (.407, 23 RBI) and right fielder Andrea Starr (.313, 25 RBI) were all on the varsity roster in the 2010 state finals.
"I think that's an advantage," Grams said of the experience playing downstate. "Just like it was an advantage Monday night (in a 4-1 supersectional win over Jacobs) when we played at Judson University."
The Grens were at Judson in the 2010 supersectional when they defeated Cary-Grove 2-0.
Three Grens will be playing for Division I schools next year. Goranson is headed to Michigan State, Keegan to North Dakota and third baseman Carly Danek (.327, 23 RBI) to Villanova.
Second baseman Becca Maher (.394, 19 RBI) and left fielder Tori Liewergen (.286, 11 RBI) are also key hitters for the Grens.
Goranson leads the Grens with 10 homers, followed by Parkison (4), Starr (4), Keegan (3) and Walz (3) and Soesbe (1).
Sophomore Brooke Wyderski (.377, 41 RBI, 10 homers), senior Nicole Babrowski (.478, 40 runs) and junior Haley Rich (.325, 31 RBI, 6 homers) lead the Redhawks' offense.
Elk Grove is trying to become the fifth Mid-Suburban league team to reach the state title game.
The Grens were first in 1982, followed by Barrington (2007 and 2008) and Fremd (2010).