After another walk-off win, Elissa Wisniewski walked off Carmel Catholic's softball diamond squeezing the regional championship plaque.
"It feels good to be holding this again," Libertyville's coach said, smiling, after her Wildcats won an 8-7 thriller over Carmel on Tayler Oberman's two-out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh Saturday.
Now, as Wisniewski noted, she gets to go back to her high school alma mater, where, as a senior in 2002, she pitched her squad to a regional title.
Second-seeded Libertyville (28-8), which tied the school record for wins, advances to Wednesday's 4:30 p.m. Class 4A Stevenson sectional and will play No. 3 Lake Zurich in a semifinal.
Lake Zurich (10-2 record) and Libertyville (9-3) finished first and second in the North Suburban Lake Division, splitting their two games.
Libertyville had gone even longer than its coach since holding a regional championship plaque. The Wildcats last pulled off the feat in 1988.
"We never give up. We keep pushing," senior left fielder Taylor Zoellick said.
It was Zoellick who scored the winning run, which was hard to swallow for No. 7 Carmel (18-18), since it argued that Zoellick never tagged up from second base on freshman Hannah Heraty's long flyball into the left-field corner. After left fielder Taylor Ganan made the catch, Zoellick took off and slid safely into third base.
Carmel coach Jason Raymond ended up getting ejected from the game, after the Corsairs unsuccessfully appealed.
"I don't even know what happened," Zoellick said. "I wasn't sure if (the left fielder) was going to catch it or not, so I ran back to the base. I tagged up."
"I was screaming for her to tag," Wisniewski said. "I was watching the ball to see if (the left fielder) made the catch, and I saw that (Zoellick) wasn't near me. So I assume that she tagged. I don't know if she did or not."
Trailing 7-4 heading into the bottom of the sixth, Libertyville, which had jumped out to a 4-0 lead after one inning only to see it slip away, scored three times to tie the score. Then after Michaela Mooney retired Carmel in order in the top of the seventh, Zoellick started the Wildcats' seventh-inning rally with a leadoff single. Mooney, who pitched 3 scoreless innings in relief, bunted Zoellick to second.
"I hadn't been hitting all game," said Zoellick, who, in her first three trips to the plate, struck out twice and walked. "I was like, 'I'm going to do it this time. I want a hit.' "
After Heraty's long out, the dangerous Oberman stepped to the plate with Zoellick standing on third. The senior then ended the game by lining an outside pitch the opposite way into left field.
"I was pretending it was a different situation and that there was someone that could hit after me, if I got out," Oberman said. "I was trying to keep my stress level low."
Oberman finished 3-for-4 with 3 RBI. She led off the Libertyville first with a homer over the fence in left field and spanked a run-scoring single in the sixth.
Libertyville's late-game heroics, in truth, are nothing new. In fact, Jamie Stevens, who was 2-for-3 with a 2-run double in the first, hit a walk-off homer and walk-off single during the regular season.
"Like we tell the kids: Play all 21 outs," Wisniewski said. "You got to play them all."
Carmel got 2 hits apiece from Kathleen Felicelli and Jenny Behan (18 home runs), but neither slugger had an extra-base hit against Wildcats starter Haley Alban or Mooney. Dani Delozier touched Alban for a 2-run home run for the Corsairs.
"We didn't play our best softball," Raymond said. "We were missing some spots, and there were extra bases that we gave up in the field to put runners in scoring position. That's something we've been doing all year. We're young, so those are things we got to learn from."
Heraty, playing in her first state tournament game, finished 2-for-4 for Libertyville. The recent call-up ripped a double to left-center to start the Wildcats' 3-run sixth and scored on Oberman's single.
"She's been hitting the cover off the ball at practice," Wisniewski said. "We knew that we were going to have to outhit (Carmel). They're such a good-hitting team that we needed every bat in the lineup. You couldn't put a freshman in a more stressful situation, and she rose to the occasion."
Besides Heraty and Stevens, Alban and Andi Katz also had 2 hits for Libertyville. Katz doubled twice, while Alban's single tied the score at 7-7 in the sixth.
Lost in a game that featured 15 runs and 23 hits was the season debut of Carmel slugger Amanda Elert, who pinch-hit in the sixth and popped out. Elert, who hit 10 homers on varsity as a freshman last year, underwent ACL surgery on her right knee in late December.
"She was cleared today," Raymond said. "She's worked really hard the last few months, and she's been dying to play."