EAST PEORIA – Plainfield North’s softball team came about as close as you can get to being a state champion without pulling off that feat.
The Tigers did their best to overcome a 2-0 deficit against Rock Island in the seventh inning in Saturday’s Class 4A title game and managed to load the bases with two outs and were only one hit away from pulling off a stunning comeback.
But Rocks pitcher Ashley Peters completed a dominating state finals performance by coaxing a pop-up to allow her team to hang on for a 2-1 victory at EastSide Centre.
Peters tossed a three-hitter with seven strikeouts to outduel Greta Thompson, who allowed four hits and one earned run in six innings.
It capped impressive state finals debuts for both the Tigers (32-6) and the Rocks (32-5). On a day where North made history by capturing its first state championship as the baseball team won, 4-3, over Huntley, coach Kelly Ash’s squad fell just shy of the same goal but still became the school’s best-finishing girls squad.
“Their pitcher was dynamic in the circle and got ahead in the count and hit her spots, and that was the difference,” Ash said. “We had our chances, and at the end we had who we wanted up to bat. Our seniors battled all year and in this game and just came up a little short.
“It stings now, but this is one of the best teams to ever come out of Plainfield and it’s one of the best teams that I’ve ever coached, if not the best. So I’m very proud of all of our team. And I can’t say enough about Greta since she’s been unreal all year.”
North threatened in the fourth when Sam Mallinder doubled and with two outs, Alie Kennedy walked and Bailey Weck reached on an error. Mallinder tried to score following the error but was narrowly thrown out at the plate.
In the bottom of the fourth, Rock Island moved in front for good as Delaney Kelley and Madison Michaels got one-out singles. Abbie Bush reached on a fielder’s choice for the second out, but Emma Spurgetis smacked one to Thompson, who couldn’t make the play, and the result was the first run.
Rock Island picked up a huge insurance run in the sixth inning when Lauryn Stegall led off the frame with a solo homer to center field.
But North responded in the seventh inning with a leadoff homer by Kaelin Callow to left that made it a 2-1 contest. Kennedy followed with a single to left and Weck sacrificed courtesy runner Elizabeth Auriemma to second.
“We came into the season unranked and nobody even thought that we’d be here,” Callow said. “It hurts to fall short, but we battled every time, and I couldn’t be more proud and honored to be a part of this team. I let that pitcher beat me twice, so I definitely wasn’t going to let her win that last time. We’ve all been playing against or with each other since we were 8 or 9, and that kind of chemistry is really hard to find. Even if we weren’t as talented as other teams, we had the camaraderie and family aspect.”
With two outs, Thompson and Jenna Dunbar were both hit by pitches to load the bases. Dunbar fell behind, 1-2, in the count and fouled off five pitches before getting hit to advance the potential tying run to third and the go-ahead run to second, but Peters got Lexi Siwek to pop up to end the drama.
“I love all of these girls so much, and it’s going to be really hard not playing with them anymore,” Dunbar said. “I’m so proud of everyone on this team since we’ve been working since Day One, but the odds just weren’t in our favor today. We just fell short a little bit today, but we have to keep our heads up since there’s nothing to be ashamed of. My best memory from this year is probably Ryan’s home run in the supersectional – that was absolutely amazing.”
Ryan Shaughnessy, who kept North’s playoff hopes alive with a dramatic three-run homer with two outs in the seventh in the supersectional, won’t forget this team.
“We’ve been talking about going to state since conditioning last year, and we never thought that it would actually come true this year,” Shaughnessy said. “But we showed in the supersectional that we never say die. Kaelin hit the home run, and we were ready to come back, but it happens. I really couldn’t have asked for a better team to come down to state with. Everyone had a job and contributed and did the best that they could.”