Warren Blue Devils (26-9) vs. Glenbard North Panthers (30-5)
What: IHSA Class 4A state softball semifinal
When: 5:30 p.m. today
Where: Eastside Centre, East Peoria
Warren's road to East Peoria: In the Loyola regional, defeated Loyola (9-2) and Mundelein (11-3); in the Stevenson sectional, defeated New Trier (3-2 in 9 innings) and Lake Zurich (12-9); in the Barrington supersectional, defeated Barrington (3-1).
Glenbard North's road to East Peoria: In the Rolling Meadows regional, defeated Wheaton North (7-2) and Willowbrook (7-0); in the Bartlett sectional, defeated St. Charles North (10-4) and Conant (6-5); in the Rosemont Stadium supersectional, defeated Oak Park (4-0).
Warren's tournament history: The Blue Devils are making their second appearance downstate and are playing in their first semifinal. In 1980, the Blue Devils lost in the quarterfinals to Lockport (9-3).
Glenbard North's tournament history: The Panthers are making their third appearance downstate. In both 1996 and 2001, they finished third. In 1996, they defeated Chicago Washington (11-0) in the quarterfinals, lost to Moline (10-2) in the semifinals and defeated Chatham Glenwood (2-0) in the third-place game. In 2001, they defeated Fremd (2-0) in the quarterfinals, lost to Normal Community (2-0) in the semifinals and defeated Belleville West (1-0 in 10 innings) in the third-place game.
Coaches: Bryan McNulty, Warren, 1st season; Josh Sanew, Glenbard North, 4th season.
Today's starters: Jana Wagner, Warren (14-3, 3.48 ERA); Cece Dopart, Glenbard North (26-4, 1.00 ERA)
Scouting Warren: The Blue Devils have been a postseason surprise after finishing third in the North Suburban Lake Division with an 8-4 record behind Lake Zurich (10-2) and Libertyville (9-3). They lost two of their final five games during the regular season. Unlike like season, when center fielder Megan Sowa (Drake) led them to a sectional championship, the Blue Devils have won without a major star. "We're just a scrappy team that has a bunch of above-average kids and play together pretty well," first-year coach Bryan McNulty said. "It seems like when we win, it's one kid that you didn't expect that just comes up big. Every girl in our lineup has taken that turn to do that." Offensively, senior left fielder Michelle Vasen leads the way. She's enjoyed a breakout season with 60 hits (.469 batting average), which includes 14 doubles. She is the team's only .400 hitter. The Blue Devils have also received timely production from Shannon McKeon (.331 BA, 11 2B), Megan Scott (.273 BA, 5 HR, 39 RBI), Sabrina Trevino (.246 BA, team-leading 6 HRs, 8 2B), Rachele Belletini (.352 BA), Jaz Bonke (.294 BA), Jodie Hurd (.237 BA, 4 HR), Amber Leneau (.324 BA, 5 2B) and Crystal Pennell (.265 BA, 6 2B). In the circle, Palm Beach Atlantic-bound Jana Wagner, the team's three-year varsity ace, has shined in the state tournament, throwing 9 innings and yielding just 2 runs against New Trier and allowing only 1 run to Barrington in the supersectional. "We've become really close as a team, and we've built a special bond," said Vasen, who was 3-for-4 with a double against Barrington. "We've definitely dug deep, and we've been leaving everything on the field, like our last game."
Scouting Glenbard North: It's been nearly a month (May 17) since the Panthers lost a game. They closed the regular season with four straight wins, before outscoring their two regional opponents 14-2. Their supersectional victory gave them their second 30-win season in a row. Little senior right-hander Cece Dopart (5 feet 6) is 26-4 with a 1.00 ERA and 303 strikeouts (34 walks) in 203 innings. "We know they got a really good pitcher that seems to mirror (Allison) Quigley from New Trier quite a bit," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said. "We're just going to have to be tough and patient with our at-bats, and do what we've done so far, use some of our speed and stuff like that. Obviously coming from the (DuPage Valley Conference), they're going to be a pretty good softball team." The Panthers feature a lot of good hitters, including junior center fielder Sarah Petzold (.513 BA, 5 HR, 12 2B, 34 RBI), Alex Caliva (.469 BA, 12 2B, Sydney Benz (.407 BA, 13 2B, 6 HR) and Heather Sperlazzo (.386 BA).
Up next: Winner advances to Saturday's state championship game (5:30 p.m.) against the winner of today's other semifinal between Sandburg (23-15) and Lincoln-Way East (27-10). Loser plays in Saturday's third-place game, which starts at 3 p.m.
-- Joe Aguilar