FLOSSMOOR | Homewood-Flossmoor pitcher Sarah Burke mowed through top competition this spring with the poise of a grizzled veteran.
That Burke is actually just a junior who had never thrown a pitch at the varsity level prior to this year makes her dominance all the more impressive.
Pitching in the talent-rich SouthWest Suburban Blue Conference, Burke has made headlines for leading the Vikings to big win after big win.
Coming into the year though, Burke was just looking for a spot in the rotation.
"I've been working really hard," Burke said. "I pitched almost every day in the offseason. I got a new pitching coach who I've been working with. My goal was to be a starter, and I knew to get there I was going to have to work really hard.
"I was surprised it all worked out so fast."
Burke's picked up another marquee win Saturday, when she pitched H-F to an upset over No. 2 seed Stagg to win the Class 4A Homewood-Flossmoor Regional title. The Vikings play Andrew today in one semifinal of the Lockport Sectional.
But as she has proven time and time again this year, big-game situations are not something Burke backs down from.
"You get nervous, but every team has a weakness," Burke said. "I try to go out there and be confident and find that weakness.
"Plus it was never just me in any of those games, it was the whole team."
H-F coach Katie Rice-Hoger said Burke's presence on the mound gives the team confidence.
"Everyone backs her 110 percent," Rice-Hoger said. "We really feel comfortable with her on the mound. We've relied on her a lot this year."
Burke's list of high-profile victims this year includes a Lincoln-Way East team that was undefeated before it ran into her, plus wins over Stagg, Lincoln-Way Central and Lockport.
Despite that impressive list, Burke still regrets that a medial collateral ligament sprain midway through the season cost her a chance at another powerhouse.
"It was a grade one sprain so it wasn't that bad; it just hurt a lot," Burke said. "I had to sit a couple games, which was the worst part of the injury. I missed Richards (which was undefeated at the time), and I really really wanted to pitch against them."
While Richards will have to wait until next season, if things go according to plan at this week's class 4A Lockport Sectional, Burke might just get a crack at a Sandburg team that beat H-F twice in the regular season.
"We've been underestimated all year," Rice-Hoger said. "So coming into the sectional, we're definitely determined. If we get Sandburg, we definitely want some revenge on them."
Before a possible matchup with Sandburg, the Vikings will have to get past Andrew. Burke said she knows exactly what that will take.
"We're confident because we know what we can do," Burke said. "But at the same time we know that it's not going to happen without hard work."