BARTLETT – Rally caps exist in theory for softball teams who don't wear visors as part of the uniform.
On Tuesday, the only thing that served as headgear for St. Charles North other than the masks for pitcher Sabrina Rabin and catcher Alex Millett were players' batting helmets.
The North Stars slid their helmets on a collective seven times in the seventh inning of a 4A Bartlett Sectional semifinal against Glenbard North. When their rally tapped out at two runs and ended a 10-4 defeat, North players yielded to reflecting.
"It was a good four years for all of us," senior shortstop Mickey Goetz said. "I think it's positive that we went down fighting, didn't give them the satisfaction of just leaving us three up, three down. It was a good way for us to end on."
North (23-9) still emerged from its final postgame outfield huddle of the spring without the optimal result.
With three runs apiece in the first and second innings, top-seeded Glenbard North (27-5) attacked the No. 4 North Stars from the start, and aims to keep swinging during Saturday's sectional final against the winner of today's semifinal between St. Charles East and Conant.
Take it from Panthers first baseman Heather Sperlazzo, who went 4 for 4 with two doubles and three RBIs.
"I think it was just confidence and who really wanted it more," Sperlazzo said. "I was ready to pound it. I didn't really care. I didn't want this to be our last game. I just had a bunch of confidence and was going up there hacking."
North Stars coach Tom Poulin referenced similar confidence on his team's side after North stayed close with the Panthers in a 5-3 loss in April. That game hinged on three unearned runs for Glenbard North.
This one started swiveling in the first inning.
In the top half, Goetz and Millett contributed consecutive one-out singles before Panthers right-hander Cece Dopart recovered to record two of her 13 strikeouts to end the threat.
In the bottom half, Sperlazzo lined a two-out, two-run single to left on a full count to open the scoring.
"We had an opportunity to score some runs in the first, or we had an opportunity to get out of the first 0-0 with two outs there, and it didn't happen," Poulin said. "And that's a tough spot to be in against a team that good."
Glenbard North reacted even as the Northwestern-bound Rabin mixed her spots. With coach Josh Sanew stressing simple approaches at the plate, the Panthers sometimes did nothing more than back off the plate if Rabin had jammed them inside their first time up.
Center fielder Sarah Petzold, also 4 for 4 and a home run short of the cycle, punctuated the second-inning rally with a two-run double. Dopart didn't think twice as her team built a 15-hit attack while striking out just three times.
It gives me a lot of wiggle room to make sure I hit all my spots and do everything," Dopart said. "It's just a lot easier on my mind, you know."
Rabin had two hits, scored twice and stole a base in her final game, showcasing the skill set that made her a highly-regarded talent for four seasons, including a run to the 4A state championship game in 2011.
"She's as good as it gets, and that's not saying it well enough. She really is," Poulin said. "She is the epitome of what every coach would want. Student-athlete. A leader. A captain – by example and vocal. She produces. She's a leader during the tough times, you know.
"She has been nothing but a joy to work with. She's very, very special. I love all those seniors. It's been a good run with them."
While North will graduate six seniors, many of its core players return for 2015. One of them is Millett, who knocked a two-run single in the seventh after three seniors singled in a row – Andrea Beal, Rabin and Goetz.
"We're best friends. We're a team of best friends," Goetz said. "And I think that kept us going."