EAST PEORIA -- Playing in the state finals is always nerve-racking.
But the top of the seventh inning on Friday at the EastSide Centre was an especially nail-biting time for the Bartlett's softball team and its fans.
The Hawks were down to their last strike, trailing defending Class 4A champion Moline 3-2 with runners on first and second base in the state semifinals.
As she stood in the batter's box, Hawks catcher and No. 3 hitter Kaylyn Zierke said she was just thinking of her favorite song.
As she stood in the dugout watching, Bartlett senior pitcher Tori Burke said she was just thinking of earlier events in the game.
"To be completely honest, I was thinking we had a good chance to break it open because I knew how well this part of our batting order was hitting," Burke said. "I thought they had her number."
Burke's prognosticating was just as good as her pitching on Friday.
Zierke dramatically lined a single to left field to score Rachel Odolski with the tying run before Alex Morales delivered the game-winning RBI with a single up the middle that brought home Andreana Taormina.
The rally, though, wasn't over.
Sophomore Kayla Haberstich kept the Hawks fans on their feet by belting her fourth homer of the season, a 2-run shot over the left field fence.
The 4-run cushion proved to plenty enough for Burke, who went out and retired the side in order for a 7-3 victory that moved Bartlett into the state championship game for the first time in program history.
The Hawks (32-8) will face Marist (26-11) at 5 p.m. today.
"We were down to our last strike but we all believed we could still do it," said Morales, who also collected the game-winning double in the Hawks' 1-0 victory over Glenbard North in the Lake Park sectional final.
"No one thought we would get to this point. And now we are playing for a state title. We know we can do it and we all believe in each other."
Moline fans were believing when their Maroons (30-11) led 3-0 going into the top of the fifth inning.
All of the Maroons' runs came off the bat of senior Brittny Drish, who belted a solo homer to left in the first inning and a 2-run blast to the same spot in the third inning for her eighth homer of the season.
The Illinois State-bound shortstop, who belted a grand slam in last year's title game, became only the third player and first since 2007 to hit 2 homers in one state tourney game.
But the Hawks' bats were warming up.
They cut the deficit to 3-2 in the top of the fifth when a two-out double to right-center by Zierke (2-for-4, 3 RBI) drove home Taormina and pinch runner Dana Paul.
Holly Pagan (3-for-4) singled with one out in the Hawks' sixth but Moline sophomore Allaina Hoffman got a smooth 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning.
The Hawks' seventh inning started with a fly out to center before pinch-hitter Steph Tomazin was hit by a pitch.
Hoffmann struck out the next batter but Taormina drew a huge walk to get Zierke to the plate for her clutch RBI single, which triggered the three consecutive hits.
"We've had this happen before," said Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith (221-106-3 in nine years) about the dramatic comeback. "We had similar wins against St. Charles North and Elgin.
"It starts with Tori on the mound going against a great lineup. She didn't make many mistakes. She pitched to her spots and did a great job. Rob (assistant coach Robert Call) did a great job calling the pitches.
"To be down 3-2 with two outs and two strikes in the last inning, that's a heck of a comeback. Even had we lost, it still would have been a heck of a softball game."
Burke (21-6) wound up with a 4-hitter and 7 strikeouts while Hoffman (17-4) allowed 9 hits and struck out four.
"Whenever you lose in the state tournament, it's always tough," said Moline coach Mark Gerlach (371-102-6), who has been to the state finals six times in his 13 seasons. "But when you have the lead going into the last inning, that makes it even tougher.
"We played the best we could and obviously they are a good team. They made some nice plays and they hit the ball and got momentum. Everyone knows how contagious hitting can be and they got it."
And they got a chance for the top prize against a Marist team that was 15-15 before sweeping St. Viator (18-6, 13-2) in a doubleheader to ignite an 11-game winning streak.
"You guys (media) could have made a lot of money if you picked this one," said Wolfsmith referring to today's title game.