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updated: 5/21/2014 4:08 PM

Buffalo Grove, Conant make a nice MSL match

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For the past three years, the Conant and Buffalo Grove softball teams played in the Mid-Suburban League championship game.

But not against each other.

The Cougars defeated Elk Grove in the 2011 and 2012 editions while the Bison lost to Barrington in last year's renewal.

But they did meet once this season.

And if their meeting in Thursday's 41st MSL title match in Hoffman Estates is anything similar, it promises to be quite an exciting match.

The Bison won on their home field 10-9 on May 2.

It was the Cougars' first loss of the season and they have only lost twice all spring in 24 games (second loss was also 10-9 at Fremd).

Visiting Buffalo Grove checks into the showcase event with a 19-8 record and 13 straight wins.

"I think we are still considered the underdog," said Bison four-years coach Jamie Paul, whose team went 13-3 in the MSL East to best Elk Grove by two games. "But that win over Conant (14-2 in the West) definitely showed our kids they can do it. I think the experience of being there last year will help big-time.

"Last year, we were nervous just by the size of the crowd at our home field. In the long run, it might help playing on the road and take some of the pressure off."

The Cougars have put pressure on opposing pitcher this season by slugging 45 home runs, led by third baseman Rachel O'Malley, who has 11.

O'Malley is undefeated in the game, having played in it as a freshman and sophomore for 14-year veteran coach Cathyann Smith.

"Buffalo Grove is a well-coached team," said O'Malley, an Indiana recruit. "And they're nice girls. There is no bad blood. But you never want to lose. I think it will be a good game."

In the first game between the two teams, the Bison rallied from a 7-3 deficit with 7 runs in the bottom of the sixth inning before Conant scored 2 in the seventh for the final margin.

Dream Aaron and DeeDee Durr each hit homers in the game for the Cougars, who made an uncharacteristic 5 errors in the game.

"We kind of self-destructed in that game," said Cougars assistant coach Kelly Wolff. "We just need everyone to be believers. We are 12 deep and we need all 12 players to do it."

In addition to O'Malley (.532 overall), Aaron (.433, 3 HR), and Durr (.425, 10 HR), the remaining group of '12' includes junior Elisa Ambrose (.495), junior Alissa Wachal (.350, 6 HR), freshman Lauren Grzelak (.382), junior Kim Zaucha (.375, 1 HR), senior Telly Hunter (.425, 3 HR), junior Hailey Rothstein (.380, 4 HR), freshman Rachel Falbo (452), sophomore Sara Neuman (.450, 6 HR) and sophomore Kali Schumacher (1 HR).

"The key is making sure our defense stays solid and we must work on reading the pitches," Smith said.

Bison junior ace Julia Camardo is 16-4 and has won 13 straight games. She also batted .326 in the conference.

Conant's three pitchers are Neuman (11-0), Schumacher (6-1) and Zaucha (5-1)

"We need timely hitting and solid defense," said Paul, who is assisted by Starr Dorsey.

Despite making their second straight appearance in the title game, the Bison are still young.

They have 11 underclassmen on the roster including Camardo, junior Caitlin Catino (.568 in conference), junior Dea Barton (.391), sophomore Emily Carnes (.414), junior Maddi Morini, freshman Jasmine Avalos (.320) junior Cassie May (.306), freshman Katie Fontanetta, freshman Grace Gran, junior Nikki Longdon and junior Cynthia Gorski.

The three seniors are Breann Steady (.333), Katie Conley and Michelle Dublin.

"Buffalo Grove is a quality team and they have a pitcher who keeps us off balance," Smith said. "Our motivation is to regroup from that last game. The girls are definitely motivated because that was our first loss in conference. "

"We have to stay level headed," O'Malley added. "Being our first loss of the season, that really motivated us and we have to stay motivated and keep playing the game we have been playing.

"Being on our home field gives us a little confidence. It's always a goal for us to score first on our home field and to get the win. We want to protect our home field."

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