ST. CHARLES – There was a slight delay before the postgame handshakes that followed Saturday’s regional championship game between St. Charles North and South Elgin.
The North Stars were forced to wait and watch as South Elgin celebrated an IHSA Class 4A regional championship just behind second base on the North Stars’ home field.
For St. Charles North, the celebration served as a reminder of the 2-1, upset defeat they just experienced and a look into what the future might hold for this team. North's season came to an end Saturday, but already the North Stars – a team that didn’t contain a single senior and expects to return everyone a year from now – were looking ahead.
“Next year, we’re really just going to come out stronger,” junior pitcher Sabrina Rabin said. “We know how this feels, and we don’t want it to happen again.”
“That’ll be motivating, and that’ll push them through the offseason,” coach Tom Poulin said. “When we get in the gym next year or we get out here and begin the season next year, they’ll have plenty of motivation. We just have to make sure we understand how fragile the postseason is, and the lessons you learn during the season, you need to put those into action when you get into the postseason.”
That fragility was on full display Saturday, when a single run meant all the difference. It was a pitcher’s day, as the two teams combined for just three runs and six hits. Runs were swapped in the first inning, as South Elgin’s senior second baseman Victoria Watt hit a leadoff home run and North Stars junior catcher Emily Brodner answered with an RBI single to plate Rabin, who led off the bottom of the first with a single and a stolen base.
That first frame featured nearly the entire offensive production of the day, and South Elgin didn’t scratch across the game-winning tally until the top of the sixth. Watt led off the inning with a double and was promptly moved to third with a sacrifice bunt. The next batter, freshman right fielder Cassidy Westlund, laid down a bunt of her own, with Watt coming home on the squeeze play and sliding in safely under Brodner’s tag.
“I was always told not to leave my position,” explained Brodner, who fielded the bunt and made a lunging attempt to tag out Watt on a bang-bang play at the plate, “but on a play like that, it’s in a spot where you’ve got to go for it and try to get the out, like I tried. I did my best. That’s all I could do.
“I feel like it could have gone either way, but it’s really up to the umpire. I know I nicked her hand, but she might have got her other hand there before I tagged her.”
The seventh-seeded Storm also handed the third-seeded and Upstate Eight Conference River champion North Stars (25-6) one of their losses during the regular season. On Saturday, North’s lone run-scoring opportunity after the first came in the fifth, when an error and a walk put two runners on base with two outs, but the North Stars couldn’t come up with a big two-out hit.
“It hurts a little bit that we didn’t get that one hit that we needed and they were able to just kind of poke it in play. That’s what we didn’t do,” Rabin said. “They were ready to play. We came out ready to play, but it just seems they had a little more energy.”
In the end, though, there was plenty to be proud of as Poulin reflected on the young team’s season.
“To be 25-6 with one of the toughest schedules, I think, that we could make and not have one senior, have everyone coming back, we had a great year. And it just ended a little too soon for our liking,” Poulin said. “But we’re really proud of what we’ve done this year without a senior on the team. And the challenges we presented them, they overcame just about every one of them.”