ST. CHARLES – For most of the season, Jarod Karom’s black St. Charles North boys basketball road uniform lacked the blue shoulder stripe the rest of his teammates sported.
The culprit was a manufacturer mix-up – not a loose nail on a locker room door frame or even an aggressive washing machine – but here’s wishing the fashion abatement spurred from the senior guard’s penchant for darting up and down the floor.
If not that sleek accessory, Tuesday’s IHSA Class 4A St. Charles East Regional semifinal offered the latest chance for North to earn a proverbial badge of honor and continue a gritty stretch run. Alas, top-seeded Batavia channeled its regular season self, sending the sub-.500 North Stars to a season-ending defeat and an early equipment turn-in.
Just not a somber one.
“We went through a lot of adversity this year,” North senior forward Jake Spaniol said, “and to finish the season the way we did, with some quality wins, I think it just really kind of shows the integrity of our team. Obviously, we thought we were capable of playing Friday, but when a team beats you three times in a season, you’ve got to tip your hats to them.”
Regional championship-bound Batavia swept North during the Upstate Eight Conference River Division season en route to a league title that immediately was put to the test. You can’t walk far in the East gym this week without hearing two things: A friendly concession-stand-is-open reminder from PA man Neil Currie and someone calling this regional a mini-UEC tournament.
On Monday, North edged Bartlett, the only UEC Valley entrant in the regional among five River clubs, in a quarterfinal game. Bulldogs coach Jim Nazos again took notice of a North Stars team that earned six of its eight wins after New Year’s Eve and relayed the urgency to his players.
“We’ve got a group where they understand that,” Nazos said. “We say it, but they believe it. ... I think part of that is the reason why we’ve had the season we’ve had. We have a real athletic, mature group. And tomorrow in practice, they’re going to practice the same way they have all year. It isn’t going to be coming in all laughing and happy to be there. It’s, ‘Hey, we’ve got business.’ That’s just the type of group this has been.”
Batavia and North share conferences and campuses not far from the Randall Road corridor, as well as diligence, it seems.
North Stars coach Tom Poulin, who now jumps into his role as coach of the school’s softball team, also lauded his team’s workout habits. Those remained constant throughout the winter.
“Very, very rarely did we have to coach effort,” Poulin said. “They came to work every day no matter what happened in the last game, and there was a stretch there where we couldn’t pull out a win. We had developed leads and then lost. We had some tough, tough losses. Hard- to-deal-with type of losses. And they showed up in the gym the next day ready to try to get a win, and they continued to work.”
An extended field goal drought spanning the final seconds of the first quarter and the 5:33 mark of the third ultimately sunk the North Stars.
In an interesting twist, though, players hardly had to labor to leave the postgame locker room and sit together once more, gathering in the baseline bleachers.
“It’s tough,” Spaniol said, “because we thought we’d be playing Friday. But you’ve just got to accept it.”
Karom could attest to that resilience, having remained one of the North Stars’ floor leaders even without a stripe.
• Kevin Druley is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinDruley.