St. Elizabeth back in Final Four, seeking first title since 1997

St. Elizabeth will face Walnut Grove in a Class 1 semifinal game on Wednesday. (Tony Mullen/KRCG13)

ST. ELIZABETH --- Last year's pain has been replaced by this year's joy.

Joy's a lot more fun, isn't it?

Last year, however, there was no joy in Mudville --- or St. Elizabeth --- when the Hornets came so achingly close to reaching the Final Four.

Instead, a 5-4 lead heading to the bottom of the sixth turned into a 6-5 quarterfinal loss to Wellsville.

"When we were six outs away from the Final Four last year, our kids knew they could do good things," first-year Hornets coach Caleb Heckemeyer said. "They just had to put in more work, more effort.

"They did, and good things have happened."

You bet they have --- and these Hornets have created a buzz. They've advanced to the Class 1 Final Four for the sixth time in school history and first since 2011, as they seek the the program's third state championship and first since 1997.

Heckemeyer was a player on that 2011 team, when the Hornets finished fourth. Sure, the finish might have been disappointing, but those memories outweigh the result.

"I told them that's it's one of the best experiences you'll ever have in high school --- playing in the Final Four, playing for the chance to win a state title," said Heckemeyer, whose unranked Hornets (15-5) will meet top-ranked Walnut Grove (22-1) in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at CarShield Field in O'Fallon.

"I enjoyed it, these kids are going to enjoy it, and our fans are going to enjoy it just as much. It's really exciting. From the moment we won districts on, everybody's been excited and the fans, the community, have all been behind us."

Actually, upon further review, these fans have been behind the Hornets since the opening pitch on opening day, Heckemeyer said. And they stayed behind the Hornets despite of a sluggish 1-3 start.

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