After Huntley beat McHenry, 12-2, in five innings on Thursday in a Class 4A Huntley Sectional semifinal for their third straight 10-run mercy rule win in the postseason, the Red Raiders post-game celebration was subdued.
In each of the past four seasons, the Raiders (32-5) have set the program record for wins and advanced farther in the postseason than any Huntley team before it.
Tiffany Giese, the program's all-time winningest pitcher with 89 wins, and senior shortstop Autumn Kasal have been there for all four years as the Raiders have won four straight 4A regional championships and three straight Fox Valley Conference titles.
"It feels awesome, considering every year we’re only getting better and better," said Kasal, who is tied with teammate Sofia Tenuta for the area lead with 63 RBIs. "It feels good to have a really strong team my senior year, and really go out with a bang. This is what we've all worked for."
The next big hurdle for Huntley is getting past a Barrington team with 17 straight regional titles and three state tournament appearances in the past six years. The Fillies (32-3) have knocked out Huntley in the sectional round in each of the past two seasons, including in last year's final.
Huntley and Barrington will play for the sectional title at 11 a.m. Saturday. The winner will then face Warren or Palatine in the Barrington Supersectional on Monday with a trip to East Peoria and the state tournament on the line.
One of Huntley's seniors from last year's team, Rylie Porretto, huddled with players in short left field after Thursday's win over McHenry and encouraged the current team to do something she and other alumni have not been able to do.
Giese, Kasal and the rest of the Raiders took notice.
"It’s always been them kicking us out," said Giese, who has been in the circle for both playoff losses to Barrington. "It’s always there and it’s always gonna be there until it's not. We’re just gonna come out, play our game and hope for the best."
Huntley will take a 15-game winning streak into Saturday's sectional final after outscoring opponents, 39-3, in their first three postseason games. Barrington and Huntley met already this year, with the Fillies coming back and scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh to hand the Raiders one of their five losses.
"That just shows the girls that they're a great team and we can hit with them, too," Raiders coach Mark Petryniec said. "Even though we haven't had a lot of success against them, it’s just another game. Every team is going to be a phenomenal team from here on out."
Kasal said the loss to Barrington this year was tough to swallow, but it made the Raiders a better team.
"It was disappointing, but in the end, it was a very good game," Kasal said. "We came out of that game pretty proud with how we played because they are a very great team. We’re just gonna go in with the same mentality. We all want it a lot."
For Giese and Kasal, who became friends in preschool and have been playing softball together ever since, a victory against Barrington would not only mark another program first; it would also extend the four-year varsity starters' seasons by at least one game more.
Giese will play next year at NCAA Division I Wisconsin-Green Bay. Kasal is going to Illinois, but not continuing her softball career.
"Me and Autumn moved up together forever (from rec leagues and pigtails to the Raiders travel softball team), so it’s really cool that we both get this chance," Giese said. "We're really excited."