Maddy Stout's playoffs have ended in much different fashion this spring than last.
And they aren't done.
Stout, St. Charles East's center fielder, is one of four senior starters on a team that's reached state for the first time since 2013. Better yet, she's healthy.
Last season, Stout tore the ulnar collateral ligament in her left thumb in the Saints' regional final win over Lake Park. Putting on her glove made Stout wince, but she gutted out East's sectional loss to St. Charles North.
"I think adrenaline kicked in," Stout said.
It surely will at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, when Stout and the Saints (25-10) take on Joliet West (23-13) in a Class 4A state semifinal in East Peoria.
"It feels amazing to be able to go to state senior year," said Stout, who will play collegiately at the University of Indianapolis. "We've been preaching that we could go to state the entire year."
Stout's road here started with the road to recovery.
She had surgery on the thumb after high school season, and missed the entire summer. She did keep going to Legacy Sports Performance with workouts tailored to her rehab, and three months later was back for fall ball. Stout still has the thumb taped to keep the pressure off, but other than that feels 100 percent.
Stout's returned in a big way, hitting .443 with a team-high 14 doubles. Her nine homers are tied with Lauren Luna for the team lead, and Stout's 35 RBIs are second on the Saints to Luna's 40.
Another East senior starter, Paige Ligocki, has four homers and 31 RBIs. Luna and seniors Krista Sbarra and Alex Wooten are all hitting over .400.
"Between Maddy and Paige I think they have maybe 40 homers or so over their career," East coach Jarod Gutesha said. "There's some punch there, for sure."
Gutesha, in his fourth year as head coach, was a first-year assistant fresh out of the college on the last East team to make state. That team beat Barrington in the semifinals, before losing to Minooka in the Class 4A final.
Gutesha relished watching his girls celebrate Monday's dramatic walk-off supersectional win.
"Watching them be successful, and watching them enjoy themselves, that's what it's all about," Gutesha said. "The kids are why I come to practice and enjoy myself. This is an experience that the kids will take with them forever, and we want them to understand that this is an experience that not many kids in competitive sports get to have."
Ligocki, who will play next year at Grand Valley State, knows it.
"I'm really excited to be able to end my season and career at state," Ligocki said. "Even though I'm playing next year in college, it's a big milestone."
It wasn't an easy journey to get here, at least the last two games.
The Saints had to rally to beat Lake Park in the sectional final, the rubber game between DuKane Conference rivals. In the supersectional, East overcame four errors to advance.
"We've spent some times clearing up some things from Monday," Gutesha said. "It's a confident group. They've faced some adversity, and overcome it."
East's opponent, Joliet West, will be making its first state appearance since 1978. The Tigers have posted three shutouts during their playoff run. Like East, led by Katie Arrambide, Joliet counts on a sophomore to lead in the circle.
Savannah Fierke has an 18-6 record with a 1.03 ERA and 260 strikeouts in 183 innings. Senior catcher Morgan Gersch, a Lindenwood recruit, is hitting .407 with five homers.
"What we heard from other coaches is their pitcher kind of moves the ball up in the zone," Gutesha said. "She's frustrated hitters and forced hitters to chase. She's a kid that's hittable; we think we can score some runs."
Marist (36-2), unbeaten this year against Illinois opponents and on a 35-game win streak, looks like the team to beat in 4A.
The RedHawks, who will play Huntley (33-7), are led by Michigan recruit Lexi Voss (.475, 13 homers, 44 RBIs) and junior catcher Gabby Altobelli, a Wisconsin commit.
In Class 3A St. Francis (25-3), making its first-ever playoff appearance, will play Bishop McNamara (28-8-1) at 10 a.m. The Fighting' Irish beat the Spartans 9-4 in April.
St. Francis is led by Southern Illinois recruit Carlee Clark (16-1, 1.75 ERA, 183 strikeouts) and catcher Caroline Caesar (.547, 11 homers, 43 RBIs).