HAMMOND | There was a huge gorilla on the back of Griffith coach Ed McLeod as the Panthers' yellow bus rolled toward south Hammond on Wednesday for the Class 3A Gavit Sectional.
It wasn't just going up against a talented Gladiators' team on their home field in the championship game. The gorilla fur has been on McLeod's neck since the IHSAA switched the sectional fields.
Griffith used to be in Sectional 18 with powers like Andrean and Kankakee Valley. The Panthers hadn't won a sectional crown since 2007. Now, Griffith is in the much softer Sectional 17 bracket.
"If we would've lost, I would've signed the petition to have me fired," joked McLeod after his Panthers disposed of Gavit 10-0 in five innings.
Griffith (15-12) will host the winner of the Kankakee Valley Sectional on Tuesday in the 3A regional.
"On the bus ride here, the girls were relaxed but not too relaxed," McLeod said. "They were focused and they wanted to get this done. We had some very good at-bats."
The Panthers scored two runs in the first, three in the second, one in the third and four in the fourth. The hitting stars were plenty.
Alexis Atkinson was 1-for-2 with three runs scored and two RBIs. Sammi Adams went 2-for-3 with one RBI and one run scored. Erica Yost was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored.
Sarah Galambos was also 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored.
"We definitely felt pressure," Griffith senior Stephanie Brandner said. "But we stayed above it. This is the best feeling in the whole world. We've been waiting for this for a long time. We were making sure we were swinging at strikes and we got it going early, which was good."
The way Griffith ace Rhiannon Cox was throwing, the Panthers didn't really need the 11 hits and double-digit runs scored. The senior struck out seven and only allowed two hits in the win.
"I've only made two trips to the mound all year long," McLeod said. "That's how good she is."
"I was feeling it," Cox said. "Everything felt good tonight."
The Glads (10-10) had their four consecutive sectional championship streak snapped. But first-year coach Emily Smith wasn't about to let the tough loss rain on a positive season for a very young team.
Gavit got hits from Mariah Barber and Hattie Andrews. But the three errors and inability to get outs was too much in the long run.
"They did everything right, all the credit goes to them," Smith said. "But our kids never quit. All year, when we get down, our kids don't look at the scoreboard. They keep fighting.
"We've got a great core group coming back and we're going to keep working to get better."