EDGINGTON, Ill. — The six seniors on the Rockridge softball team have won 112 games in their careers, but it's the one win they don't have that drives them entering the postseason today.
Last year, the Rockets made it to the Class 2A state tournament, finishing third after falling to state champion Carterville 6-5 and then beating Elgin St. Edward 12-2 in the consolation game.
This season, they're looking to take the last step.
"We really took motivation from last year," senior shortstop Daria Parchert said. "We wanted to get there again and we wanted to get back at it and go as hard as we can all the time."
The Rockets certainly look poised to make another run. Rockridge is ranked fourth in the state and enters its regional semifinal today with a 27-6 record. Of those six losses, just one has come to a team in its class.
"Some people might say unfortunately we had some stumbles. I’m saying, thank God we had some stumbles," head coach John Nelson said. "Every time we had a loss or didn’t play that well, we always answered the next game and really stepped it up.
"That’s what we’ve continued to do all season is learn from our mistakes and continue to get better. Understand it’s a process, it’s a marathon and everybody has really bought into that and you can really feel the intensity."
Last year, the Rockets made noise with a prolific offense, averaging more than 10 runs per game. This year Rockridge is averaging more than nine runs a game but is well-rounded in all aspects. Four players have at least four home runs and six have at least 20 RBIs.
Sophomore and Loyola commit Amelia Thomas leads the team with a .470 batting average, while senior catcher Jenna Swanson is batting .468 with a team-high eight home runs and also has 56 RBIs this season, one off the single-season school record set by Erin Lingle last year.
"Coming into this season I didn't really plan on breaking any records," Swanson said. "It's my last season for softball overall ... I'm just trying to go out with a bang. After this season is over, it's over for me."
Swanson has also been the recipient of some strong pitching all season. Senior Maddie Bayne is 15-1 with a 1.91 ERA, while Thomas is 4-1 with a 1.09 ERA. Of the four Rocket pitchers with at least five appearances this season, only one has an ERA above 3.00. As a group, the Rockets' team ERA is 1.95, down from last year's 2.54.
"We have the most amazing pitching staff. We have four different pitchers you can't really get a hang of," Bayne said. "There's so much confidence in all of our pitchers. At the beginning of the season we knew each one of us had to step up."
Rockridge knows how hard it is to get to the state tournament. Last year, it took a walk-off home run from Parchert in the super-sectionals to send the Rockets to state and they understand that as the postseason progresses, they're going to see better and better pitching.
With a pitching staff of their own they feel can shut down other teams, the emphasis this year for the Rockets has been on manufacturing to give the pitching staff plenty of runs to work with.
"Last year there were a lot of doubles, a lot of triples, a lot of home runs," Nelson said. "This year it's a lot of get on base, bunt them over, move them in. Pressure the other team so we can maybe score more than one run an inning."
A berth in the state title game is the last possible step for the program — and for the senior class — in Nelson's fourth season. In his first year, the Rockets fell in the regional final, then in the next, lost in the sectional final. Coming off the third-place finish last year, the message has been simple right from the first practice.
"One step further," Nelson said. "Every year, we've used whatever game ended our season as the motivation to get us through the next year. We talk about the Carterville game all the time ... we felt like we left an opportunity on the field in that game and we definitely want to get back down there for some redemption and finish the way these seniors need to finish."