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Junior infielder Mackenzie Gareau is in a familiar position, like many of her Marquette softball teammates.

Gareau is one of nine returning players from last season's Class 4 state championship Mustangs team whose title defense culminates in a second consecutive visit to Killian Sports Complex in Springfield.

At 11 a.m. Friday, the Mustangs (23-3, No. 2 in the large-schools rankings) face Blue Springs South (21-6) in a Class 4 state semifinal. It's a rematch of last year's title game the Mustangs won 2-0.

“This means the world to me, I got to live the dream last year,” Gareau said. “But I want it again. It feels amazing to be a part of something so special — Marquette history. We want this one to go down in the record books.”

Gareau went 1-for-2 in last season's state final, which resulted in Marquette's first softball championship after a previous-best runner-up finish in 2015.

Annah Junge, a senior, was last season's winning pitcher and had a hit while senior catcher Tabby Cacheris was 1-for-3 with an RBI in the championship. Tayler Emerson scored a run during that victory, in which fellow seniors Eileen McGinnis and Jenna Schatz also appeared. 

Senior outfielder Chloe Hendrikse, junior outfielder Lindsey Wichman and sophomore infielder Lindsey Stelzer are the other returners from the 2018 title-winning roster.

“It feels so good — with a great senior class that we have — to have a chance to be a model for the younger girls,” Gareau said. “To get the chance to be a leader with all of (the seniors) truly is special.”

Because of who she is and what she has done, Gareau is considered part of the Mustangs leadership group.

Gareau has hits in nine of Marquette's last 10 games and was 3 for 3 with a double, a triple and three RBI in a 12-2 quarterfinal victory against Oakville.

“She and I have been best friends since the second grade,” Cacheris said. “She's always meant a lot to me as a best friend. She's a big part of this team. For her to come through like she always does, that's why we have so much faith in her. She's amazing, she's such a great hitter. She's also just the sweetest. I, we, just love her to death.”

Gareau is hitting for a .359 average with four doubles, two triples and 21 RBI.

She also has five stolen bases and has amassed 64 putouts with just one error for a .985 fielding percentage.

“She brings a passion for the game and a love for the game every time she comes out,” Mustangs coach Amy Doyle said. “She's so positive, so energetic and she loves the game so much. She is, truly, one of those kids that battles and works to get better every time.”

The Marquette-Blue Springs South winner advances to play at noon Saturday in the championship against either Troy (25-4-1) or Raymore-Peculiar (24-7). 

Marquette is striving to become the first Class 4 softball team to win consecutive titles since Lee's Summit in 2013 and 2014. Lafayette is the last area program to win repeat championships in the state's largest classification (2000 and 2001), while Warrenton is the last area program in any classificiation to win two titles in a row, doing so in Class 3 in 2015 and 2016.

“We're going to defend that state championship, to defend it,” Gaureau said. “If we don't win it, I won't feel any regrets. Everybody has worked their butts off the entire year. With so many people in different positions — to have them come through — it's just amazing. Everybody's just worked so hard. We're not done yet.”

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