Gibault High School's last visit to the state baseball tournament was in 1997 and included a future major league pitcher and first-round draft pick in John Rheinecker.
Shawnee's last state tourney trip was in 1981.
Two programs built on rock-solid pitching will collide at Peoria's O'Brien Field at noon Friday in the semifinals hoping for a spot in the Class 1A state championship game.
"I think our kids are ready for the big stage," said Gibault coach Andy Skaer, whose 23-11 club has won five in a row and seven of its last eight. "This is something that we've talked about for a long time. Even in preseason discussions we knew we had a chance for this to be in the cards and now we're there."
Gibault outfielder Matt Schreder had high hopes for his senior year. He also was a starter on the Hawks' basketball team that reached the Class 1A sectional final.
"It's really exciting," he said. "We've talked about (going to state) the past couple years in basketball, but this is very exciting for us and the whole school as well."
This isn't Skaer's first trip to state. He turned eight years old on the day his aunt took him to Freeburg's 1989 state championship victory and the Freeburg High graduate was on the Midgets' staff as a volunteer assistant coach for a second-place finish in 2002.
Gibault has two solid starters in junior left-hander Zach Neff (7-2, 1.90 ERA, 82 strikeouts in 59 innings) and junior right-hander Austin Beccue (5-2, 2.37 ERA, 56 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings). Beccue is expected to start since Neff threw a complete game in Tuesday's 4-1 super-sectional victory over Jacksonville Routt.
"He's sneaky fast, he locates on the corners and low in the zone really well," Skaer said of Beccue.
The Hawks could see an extremely tough senior lefty if Shawnee (22-5) starts Three Rivers Community College recruit Adam Pennington.
Pennington is 10-1 with a 0.31 ERA and 143 strikeouts in just 67 2/3 innings, allowing only three earned runs all season. He struck out 11 Monday in a 4-2 super-sectional victory over Windsor-Stewardson-Strasburg.
"He wasn't too happy with 11 strikeouts," Shawnee coach Chad Pitts said. "I'm like 'You just struck out 11 in a super-sectional game, that's a pretty impressive feat right there."'
The Redskins are also comfortable with junior Aiden McMahan (4-2, 0.71 ERA) or senior Gavyn Ellet (5-2, 1.00 ERA) on the mound. Of course when the highest pitching ERA on your entire staff is 1.40, things are always pretty comfortable.
"By far our pitching is the main key to our team," Pitts said. "We've got three pitchers that you can throw out there at any time and they could be 1A, 1B and 1C. Last year you could see us mature into the group they are now and this year they took it to the next level."
Shawnee, located about two hours south of Belleville in the rolling hills of Union County, has won six in a row and 10 of its last 11. The Redskins have won seven straight regionals and also reached the super-sectional last spring, before losing 7-0 to Effingham St. Anthony.
Ellet, headed for Shawnee Junior College, also is an offensive force, hitting .400 with 10 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 27 RBIs. Other top hitters include Austin Treece (.420, 11 doubles, three homers, 19 RBIs) and McMahan (.341, six doubles, six triples, two homers, 14 RBIs).
Gibault's offensive production hasn't been limited to the top of the lineup.
Junior shortstop Wes Degener (.458, nine doubles, four triples, one homer, 26 RBIs) and senior outfielder Matt Schreder (.348, six doubles, one homer, 27 RBIs) have driven in the most runs.
Leadoff man and center fielder Mitch Meyer has scored 45 runs while hitting .356 with 12 doubles, three triples and 13 RBIs. Second baseman Chandler Purcell (.391, eight doubles, 21 RBIs) and designated hitter Will Shepherd (.261, six doubles, 23 RBIs) also are run-producers.
"We knew when we dropped down to 1A that we had a pretty talented group, but even if we were in 2A we feel that we would still have a lot of talent and a chance to go deep," Skaer said.