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The St. Elizabeth Hornets made it to the Class 1 state baseball championship game last season.
This year, they want to return with a little better trophy as St. Elizabeth (16-4) gets set to face Cooter (20-6) in the semifinals at 4 p.m. today at CarShield Field in O'Fallon.
"We just used last year as a motivator," St. Elizabeth senior Aaron Blomberg said. "When you're that close, you're just going to work that much harder."
St. Elizabeth defeated Walnut Grove 4-2 in the semifinals last year before falling 4-1 to Oran in the title game.
"Losing definitely made me want to become a better player and work harder the next year," St. Elizabeth junior Coltin Green said. "There's nothing like it, the atmosphere is insane and to get back and to have another opportunity to go back after losing last year and wanting to win even more, that makes you want to work even harder."
The Hornets are the only one of last year's Final Four teams to return this season.
"Last year's experience is going to be a big help," St. Elizabeth coach Caleb Heckemeyer said. "Only losing two and a lot of guys that have experience in there will help lead the way hopefully."
St. Elizabeth has battled to get to today's game.
On the road in the sectional round, the Hornets scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to defeat Northwest: Hughesville 5-4. In last Wednesday's quarterfinal in St. Elizabeth, the Hornets trailed 2-0 early before rallying and then hanging on for another 5-4 victory.
"It's actually a good thing for us because we know when we get down, we know we can fight back," Heckemeyer said. "It's a good learning lesson so they know what they need to do and not do."
The Hornets are hitting .331 as a team this season, drawing 66 walks to go along with 98 strikeouts.
Coltin Green leads the way with a .492 average (32-of-65 through the district tournament) with 32 runs scored. Green has three home runs and 22 RBI.
"Going there last year really opened our eyes to see that hard work can get you to great places," he said. "There's no experience like it so we're going to keep working hard and getting back to the title game is our goal."
Dylan Wobbe is next at .397 (25-of-62). The sophomore leads the Hornets with 32 RBI and also has belted a team-high four home runs.
Blomberg is hitting .333 with a team-high 16 walks.
On the mound, Blomberg has thrown a team-high 43 innings with a 1.79 ERA. He's totaled 45 strikeouts while walking just nine batters.
"It's such an awesome moment to be able to go back there knowing we've got two more games," Blomberg said.
Nolan Heckemeyer has a team-high six wins on the mound, striking out 35 batters in 35 innings.
The Hornets have been stout on the defensive side, committing just 27 errors.
"Hopefully we keep that up going into state," Green said.
Cooter advanced to the title game with a 10-0 win against defending champion Oran in the sectionals before besting Dora 9-1 in the quarterfinals.
The Wildcats are hitting .361 as a team, led by senior Christian Gunnels (.460) and juniors Edward McLevain (.448) and Jacob Watkins (.444). Watkins has 27 RBI to lead Cooter, one better than McLevain.
Dawson Treat has a 6-4 record in a team-high 58 innings on the mound with a 2.65 ERA and 89 strikeouts. As a team, Cooter is averaging 1.5 strikeouts per inning.
Today's other semifinal will pit Weaubleau (19-9) against La Plata (17-1) at 6:30 p.m. The third-place game is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday, followed by the championship at 1:30 p.m.