At some point Naperville Central was going to accept its first loss and move on.
The Redhawks weren't quite there Monday afternoon.
"On the bus (coach Andy Nussbaum) was like, 'There are stages of grief, and I think I'm at the anger stage,'" Redhawks junior Maddi Doane said with a smile. "That's how a lot of us felt today."
Getting back on the field provided the needed medicine. Two days after St. Charles North handed No. 1 Naperville Central its first defeat, the Redhawks rebounded in neat fashion to beat Naperville North 6-2 at North Central College.
Naperville Central (30-1, 13-0 DuPage Valley Conference) led 4-0 after two innings, more than enough for starting pitcher Julie Kestas.
"The loss is what it is, and we had to move on," Nussbaum said. "I thought our reaction was expected and what it should be. And that is today is a new day, and we're 0-0."
The Redhawks won Monday like many of its 29 wins before -- with a Doane-fueled offense and dominant pitching.
Doane doubled to lead off the game -- her 21st of the season -- singled in the second and singled in the fourth.
She came around to score on Katie Lamich's sacrifice fly in the first, and Keegan Hayes made it 3-0 with a 2-run single. Doane singled in Lindsay Gonzalez, who doubled, in the second, and then Doane scored on Kaitlyn Skarecky's single in the fourth.
Every Naperville Central hitter reached base at least once, Gonzalez going 2-for-3 and Courtney Giebel reaching three times.
"It's good to see our bats are still alive," Doane said. "Nobody was really affected much by the loss, as you can see."
Kestas (10-0) gave up a 2-run Kailee Budicin single in the third, then set down 12 batters in a row until a two-out error in the seventh. She struck out five and had solid defense behind her, Megan Nerger making a diving catch at first base in the first and Lamich a shoestring catch in the seventh.
"They can hit, they can field, they can run the bases and their pitching is dominant. You give them a few runs early, it's tough," Naperville North coach Jerry Kedziora said. "You're not going to beat Naperville Central scoring 8 runs."
Kedziora liked how his Huskies (14-12, 6-7) responded after he challenged them in the dugout following a tough first two innings that included 2 errors.
"They had some pride," he said. "We came out flat, and you can't come out flat against a good team. The kids made some choices that I think will help us going forward."
Naperville Central, the DVC title already sewn up and the idea of an unbeaten season in the rearview mirror, has three games left to tune up the playoffs. Even with one loss, Nussbaum knows the pressure won't go away.
"We have discussed a little bit that starting next week the pressure is going to escalate," he said. "We want to prepare ourselves, and I thought we did a great start to that today."
Naperville Central swept the season series, but these two could conceivably meet a third time in a regional final next week.
"These girls would love that opportunity," Kedziora said, "but gosh, just getting past Downers Grove South won't be easy. We haven't played our best this year. We want to get hot at the right time. Last couple years, that's what we did."