Taylor Koenigs' decision to paint a black mask on her face seemed appropriate considering she and her Stevenson softball teammates were playing at the Chicago Bandits' stadium.
Diagonal stripes accompanied a line that stretched from the sophomore shortstop's forehead to her chin.
"I brought the eye black," said Koenigs, whose look matched that of her double-play partner, Patriots second baseman Jordan Cortesi. "It brings the motivation up. Keeps us pumped."
Funny, it was Vernon Hills that threatened to steal victory Friday night. Instead, Stevenson, which got 2 triples and 4 RBI from its masked-girl Koenigs, escaped with a 6-3 win in the teams' North Suburban Conference crossover played at The Ballpark at Rosemont.
"The only thing I can compare (the atmosphere) to is going on the field at Northern (Illinois) when we were there in '98 and '99 for the state tournament," Stevenson coach Larry Friedrichs said after his Patriots improved to 9-6. "But to get to an impressive venue like this, it's a whole different feel."
"When we got here, the girls' eyes were wide open looking at the field and the surroundings and everything," Vernon Hills coach Steve Korney said. "It was like little kids in a candy store. That was neat for them -- and as a coach, too, to look up in the grandstands and see all the fans."
Despite her team's loss, Vernon Hills senior Jenn Claussen left The Ballpark with a memory that she likely will never forget. With the Cougars trailing 6-1, she led off the sixth by hitting a pitch high into the night sky. The ball easily cleared the fence in left-center, near the 220-foot sign in center, for her first home run of the season.
"It hit the sweet part of the bat," Claussen said. "It was one of those where you hit it and you know (it's gone). ... It felt good."
Vernon Hills (1-7) trailed 6-3 heading into the seventh but rallied. Dana Meline (2-for-3) led off with a single, and Jordyn Comitor (2-for-4) singled after an out, bringing up the tying run, Claussen.
But Patriots pitcher Sam Feder got Claussen to fly out to right fielder Morgan Manka. Feder then struck out her eighth batter of the game to end it.
"She put a good swing on the ball," Korney said of Claussen. "You can't ask her to hit a homer every time. But I liked how we fought back."
Koenigs got the scoring going in the bottom of the first inning with an RBI triple hit to deep right field. Sara Loerch scored easily after coaxing the first of her 3 straight walks.
In the second, consecutive singles by Kat Trotter, Cortesi and Dana Morgan (2-for-3) loaded the bases with none out. Claussen got back-to-back strikeouts, but walked Loerch to force in Stevenson's second run of the game. Koenigs then lined a shot past Cougars shortstop Tori Smith. The ball rolled to the fence, scoring 3 runs as Koenigs sped to third.
"It was a little nerve-wracking, at first, because it's the Bandits' stadium. You got to perform," Koenigs said of her first two at-bats. "But I kept calm and I finished it."
Claussen's fourth-inning single scored Comitor, who had tripled, for Vernon Hills' first run. Claussen started in the circle and, despite taking the loss, struck out 10 Patriots.
"This was amazing," said Claussen, who posed for a picture on the field afterward with Stevenson's Feder, Loerch and Manka. "I played on this field like two years ago (with the Stingers travel team), but playing on this with my high school team against some of our friends was a really big deal. It was just really fun to do."