Usually at this point in the postseason, teams don't have a very detailed scouting report of their sectional final opponents.
But the Sterling Golden Warriors are plenty familiar with Saturday's foe. For the third straight season, the Warriors will meet Marengo in a 3A sectional title game.
The familiarity doesn't mean that Sterling is too focused on the team across the diamond, though.
"We definitely know them and know how good they are," senior shortstop Karlie Mellott said, "but all we can control is what we do and how we play, so that's all we're worried about. We just have to keep doing what we've been doing – timely hitting and good defense – and hopefully we'll have the same result."
In 2012, 3A defending state champ Marengo beat Sterling 2-1 in the Belvidere North Sectional final; the Indians went on to a runner-up finish at the state tournament that year.
Last year, the Warriors used a wild five-run rally with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to win the Rochelle Sectional title; they went on to a fourth-place state finish in East Peoria.
But Sterling (28-8) is a much different team than the one which rallied in Rochelle. Seven seniors graduated from the 2013 state team, and it's a younger group that is looking to follow in their footsteps.
"It was tough losing those seniors," junior catcher Lauren Fritz said, "but we brought as many people up as we could last year when we went to state. We know what it's like down there, we know how to play in big-game atmospheres. We know we've got players to fill in what we lost, and we're confident in our bats and our fielding."
The confidence stems from the Warriors' ability to come up with the big hit or big play at key moments in games, something they've done consistently all year.
"We're at our best when we're working together as a team, and we just have to keep doing that like we have been," Mellott said. "Up and down the lineup, everyone knows their role, and what they have to do for us to be successful … and they're doing it. That's the kind of thing that makes it easy to trust each other and helps us carry over that team mentality from game to game."
The postseason has been no different. After winning two regional games by a combined 16-1, Sterling overcame a 4-0 deficit after a half-inning Tuesday against Burlington Central to win 8-7 in eight innings. Almost every Warrior came up big at some point in that game, and it's got the young squad believing.
"We've got a lot of momentum for Saturday," Fritz said, "and we really think we can get back to state. There will definitely be butterflies before the game, but I think once we're done warming up and taking infield, we'll be cool and calm like usual, and it will be just another game. We'll probably be loud, and that's when we seem to pick up even more momentum."
Marengo (28-10) is also riding high coming into the title tilt. The Indians ran the table to win the Big Northern East Division, and have outscored their opponents 24-2 in three postseason games.
Freshman pitcher Mariah Dionne was the conference pitcher of the year, and has allowed just seven hits while striking out 33 in the playoffs. Dionne, along with seniors Abby Kissack and Taylor Carlson, lead a potent offense that can hit for power as well as manufacture runs.
Coach Becki Edmondson says the key will be for her team to stay relaxed. The ability to have any player in the lineup deliver a big hit or make a key play in the field helps the Warriors do that, because it takes the pressure off any one person to be perfect.
Fritz and Mellott agree that the pressure-packed games of the postseason don't seem quite so intense because they know if someone is struggling, there are several more Warriors to pick them up.
Edmondson believes the youth of her team is beneficial in some cases, because they're not experienced enough at the high-school level to worry about anything other than playing the game and doing their jobs.
"We're going to remind them to focus on the fundamental things, and hopefully that will take their minds off the big picture," Edmondson said. "We've been very relaxed and positive throughout the season, and especially lately, and we just want to keep that up Saturday."
Class 3A Marengo Sectional final
Who: Sterling (28-8) vs. Marengo (28-10)
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Marengo High School
Radio: 1240 AM
Twitter: Follow Patrick Mason (pm222)
FYI: This is the third straight year the Warriors and Indians have met in a 3A sectional title game. Marengo won 2-1 in 2012, while Sterling won 6-5 in 2-13 after a five-run rally with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. … Sterling won the only meeting this year, 3-0 on March 29. … The Warriors have outscored opponents 24-8 this postseason; Marengo has a 24-2 scoring edge.