North Stars have state semis in sightSt. Charles North players celebrate after their Class 4A Softball Sectional title victory at Schaumburg High School in Schaumburg, Ill., on Saturday, June 4, 2011.
| Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |
St. Charles North pitcher Amanda Ciran stood out of coach Tom Poulin’s hearing range when she spoke about her team’s supersectional opponent.
If Poulin had heard her, he certainly would have been proud.
“Every team is going to be good from here on out,” Ciran said.
The North Stars (31-3) play a Class 4A DeKalb Supersectional game at 6:15 Monday night against the host team at Northern Illinois University’s field with the first state semifinal softball berth in school history at stake. It would be easy for the Stars to treat the Barbs like a team that played a schedule full of 3A teams, and one led by a 14-year-old freshman pitcher.
They won’t. Nor will they have a problem adjusting to an unexpected supersectional opponent after knocking off Elk Grove, the top sectional seed and a team that made the third-place game at state last year.
“This team, from Day 1, will tell you the most important game on their schedule is their next game,” Poulin said. “We’ve been saying that, no matter who was the next game.
“They roll their eyes and I think they get sick of hearing me say it. I think they understand. The most important game is the one in DeKalb Monday night.”
DeKalb (31-4) indeed is led by 14-year-old, red-hot pitcher Katie Kowalski. She hasn’t allowed a run in 17 innings after shutting out Cary-Grove 3-0 in the Rockford Guilford Sectional title game, and Hononegah 4-0 in the semifinals. The last run she allowed was in the fourth inning of a 6-2 regional title win over South Elgin. Kowalski (25-3) has allowed just three runs since postseason play began.
And while DeKalb did play mostly 3A opponents in nonconference games, as well as in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference, it has one credential which has to scare North.
On May 21, the Barbs beat Geneva 6-4.
Geneva was the only team in the Upstate Eight to beat St. Charles North, and the team that handed Ciran (22-1) her only loss.
It’s unlikely DeKalb has seen a pitcher as good at fooling hitters as Ciran, the Loyola-bound senior who allowed one earned run in winning two sectional contests.
“Amanda does a real good job with movement and then the change up of speeds,” Poulin said. “I don’t think anybody’s comfortable in the box against her. She keeps them off balance and guessing.
“She also has what I believe — but I’m biased — is the best defense in the state behind her.”
The Stars put together a highlight reel of defensive plays to beat Elk Grove.
“They gobbled up everything,” Ciran said. “They can get anything. I don’t have to be afraid to pitch a ball because I know they can get it.”
Whether that’s the team’s greatest strength might be open to debate.
“Our defense is the strongest part that we have — aside from our offense,” said third baseman Taylor Russell, laughing. “Our offense is pretty strong because everyone in the lineup can hit. There’s not one person that the other defense doesn’t have to worry about.”
Russell has two postseason home runs, but it’s been a Stars attack that hits for power, to drive in runs, and also utilizes speed.
“That’s the same method, the same attack we’ve been using the whole season: to get base runners on, move them over and try to come up with clutch hits,” Poulin said.
The Stars knocked off two huge obstacles with one victory in the sectional. They’d pointed at Elk Grove all season. At the same time, they’ve had to live with the shadow of last year’s collapse in the first game of regionals.
“It feels good to prove everyone wrong,” Russell said. “We know that people doubted us from the beginning because of last year. But we’ve come out strong. I’m so relieved that we’ve actually proved ourselves.”
A victory Monday would mean the Stars clinch their first state softball trophy ever, and would advance to Friday’s state semifinals at East Peoria’s EastSide Centre against the winner of the supersectional clash between Lake Zurich and New Trier.