EAST PEORIA -- With the frustration of a 9-8 loss to Moline in the Class 4A state championship game still fresh in everyone's mind, especially with a critical missed call factoring heavily in the outcome, there were understandably a lot of upset North Stars accepting their second-place state trophy Saturday night.
Perhaps the one with the most upbeat attitude, not surprisingly, was pitcher Amanda Ciran.
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She kept her spirits up all year for the North Stars, who capped a record-setting 4-year run by going 32-4 this year and becoming just the second Tri-Cities softball team ever to make it to state, joining 1994 St. Charles.
And she was no different even after St. Charles North came agonizingly close from rallying from a 9-3 deficit to win the school's first state championship.
"We've never been here before, we made history and I hope this is going to be hard to top," Ciran said. "Never a better feeling in the world."
That's especially true given how their junior year ended, a shocking loss to York in the regional opener after they had blitzed through the regular season at 29-3.
When asked what she'll remember most about her four years on varsity, how her team recovered from that loss is the first thing Ciran cited.
"Showing what we can do especially after last year," said Ciran, who won 24 games this year and finished with a 57-11 career record.
"We just let that drive us this year. When we lost we took ourselves back and coach (Tom Poulin) had us say why did that happen and we are going to fix it this year. We did and we let it drive us all the way to state. I couldn't be prouder of these girls. They have done so much, so much time and so much effort. They put it all out on the line."
Ciran, Natalie Capone, Loren Cihlar, Sydney Russell and Taylor Russell all came up to the varsity as freshmen. They went 23-12 and provided a glimpse of the tremendous success to come.
Ashley Seering, Annie Korth and Emily Watts were among the players who joined those five during a sophomore year that saw the North Stars go 27-10, win the first of three straight Upstate Eight titles and reach the sectional championship game.
With all of them back for two more years, expectations were sky high. And St. Charles North delivered 29-4 and 32-4 records with that senior class that produced 7 Division I players.
"They are a great group of girls and I couldn't have asked for any better group of teammates," Korth said. "This senior season was amazing. To go this far was an honor for me. I can't believe we made it to state. We came so far together."
Seering echoed that sentiment and said the North Stars can serve as a model for other area teams to follow.
"We've kind of shown everybody we can come through and anything can happen from any school," Seering said. "As long as you all have the same passion and the same commitment to becoming a team and a family you are going to go somewhere and that's exactly what we did this season."
When the postseason rolled around this year, even though the North Stars had cruised through a 26-3 regular season, that York loss loomed as a reminder of how one bad game can ruin so much hard work.
Hard work that began with feeder programs like the Wasco Diamonds and all the off-season commitments the players and their families made.
The way the 2010 season ended made the 2011 run to state that much more rewarding.
"I think the main thing with us coming here (to state) and stuff aside from the accomplishment of getting second in state is our team has come so close in the postseason and tournament," Korth said. "With jokes and dancing with songs, it's been awesome. I've loved every single moment. That's why its (the loss) such a letdown because everyone has been having so much fun."
"This is an incredible group and they represent the St. Charles school community incredibly well," Poulin said. "They are an extradorinaly group of girls. I'm pretty much speechless. This is an incredible run."
The postseason run started with regional wins over Glenbard East and Lake Park. The toughest tests proved to be in the Schaumburg sectional, first a 10-inning win over Leyden and then an 8-inning upset of No. 1 seed Elk Grove before the North Stars wiped out a 4-0 deficit in the supersectional to blow out DeKalb 12-4.
"We not only got to state but we came together as a team in the end," said Taylor Russell, who leaves with career totals of 141 RBI, 192 hits, 118 runs, 13 home runs and a .409 batting average. "I'm proud of each and every one of us because we all contributed to the team in many different ways.
"We all did a bunch of different things for us to get here and that makes me very proud of my team, very proud of our program. We've set a very high standard."