Softball: St. Charles North does it again, beats Marist to win Class 4A state championship

North Stars score five runs in the sixth for 7-2 win, second state title in three years

Members of the St. Charles North softball team hoist the Class 4A championship trophy after defeating Marist on Saturday, June 8, 2024 at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.

PEORIA – Ginger Ritter knew she had momentum on her side.

After St. Charles North had four straight batters reach base, all with two outs, to take a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning of the Class 4A state final June 8, she was confident that no matter what happened, she would make it five batters in a row.

So with her pitcher, her teammates and most important her sister, Skyla Ritter, on her mind, she swung as hard as she could.

And sent a ball over the left-field fence.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that happy for anything ever,” Ginger Ritter said. “It’s just so unreal.”

Ritter’s three-run home run capped a five-run sixth-inning rally to help St. Charles North to a 7-2 victory over defending state champion Marist to win the Class 4A state title at the Louisville Sluggers Sports Complex in Peoria.

St. Charles North's Ginger Ritter reacts while running to home plate after hitting a home run against Marist during the Class 4A championship game on Saturday, June 8, 2024 at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.

It was St. Charles North’s second state title in program history and the second one in three seasons. The North Stars (26-6) beat the RedHawks 3-2 in the 2022 state title game.

“Marist is probably the most challenging team to face, so that locks you in. If you aren’t locked in to play someone like that on this stage, you’re crazy,” St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. “But our girls were ready. They’ve had a purpose since the beginning and it was to work toward this. And I cannot tell you how proud of them I am. This is the reward you can get when you buy into a team concept.”

The game was tied 2-2 heading into the sixth inning and the North Stars were in a bit of a dry spell with no baserunners since a walk by Maddie Hernandez in the second inning. But Poulin knew that the more at-bats they had, the better they would be at the plate.

“We just kept telling them that we were still in this game,” Poulin said. “It’s going to take quality at-bats and we only needed one inning to put things together. We kept telling them to stay positive and in the moment and good things will happen.”

After two quick outs in the inning pushed the streak to 12 batters not reaching base, Skyla Ritter, who scored the game-winning run in the state semifinals against Oswego, drew a walk.

After that, it was pretty clear what needed to be done.

“We’ve made it this far, why not win it?” Ginger Ritter said. “We went all out. All gas, no brakes.”

The first one to put her foot down on the gas pedal? Addy Umlauf.

The junior, who had St. Charles North’s last hit at that point back in the first inning, tripled to right-center to drive in courtesy runner Ivy Gleason for the go-ahead run to give North a 3-2 lead.

And Umlauf had reason to dance while standing on third base.

“I knew I had to answer back from what Skyla did,” Umlauf said. “It was getting deeper into the game and I knew we needed to start something there. But I can’t think of a better feeling than that.”

St. Charles North's Abby Zawadzki smacks a hit against Marist during the Class 4A championship game on Saturday, June 8, 2024 at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.

Abby Zawadzki kept the rally going by driving in Umlauf with a soft grounder that skipped past the shortstop.

Haley Nelson drew another two-out walk before Ritter’s big blast blew the game open.

“Everybody contributed today whether it was offensively or defensively,” Poulin said. “They made a great play, they had good at-bats, they had clutch hits with two outs. This team is unbelievable.”

It wasn’t the only time that the North Stars overcame adversity in the game. St. Charles North came to the plate for the first time in the game down 1-0 after Marist’s Camryn Lyons hit an RBI single in the top half of the first inning.

St. Charles North's Maddie Hernandez smiles during the Class 4A championship game on Saturday, June 8, 2024 at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.

Hernandez took that advantage away real quick. On the first pitch she saw, the senior turned on it, sending it over the fence and just inside the left-field foul pole to draw the game even at 1-1.

“We were just hunting for strikes,” Hernandez said. “I was looking inside on the first pitch and that’s exactly what I got.”

Later in the inning, the North Stars got three straight singles from Julianna Kouba, Skyla Ritter and Umlauf, who drove in Kouba to give North an early 2-1 advantage.

“We’d been scouting the pitcher and I knew what she was throwing,” Umlauf said. “I knew that with two outs I had to put something in play to score some runs since they got on us first.”

While key situational hitting helped the North Stars to the win, it was the defense that really shined throughout the game. And nobody appreciated that more than pitcher Paige Murray.

St. Charles North's Paige Murry makes a diving catch in front of home plate during the Class 4A championship game on Saturday, June 8, 2024 at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.

The junior, who came into the game with 219 strikeouts on the season, finished the game with only two against Marist, both in the first inning. But against a team like Marist, Murray said her only goal was just making sure to get 21 outs.

“Marist has an incredible lineup,” Murray said. “I knew I had to get outs by any means. Strikeouts, fly outs, ground outs, it didn’t matter. But both my outfield and infield made amazing plays. It was just the perfect game.”

Murray left eight Marist runners on base, including one on second when she got Lyons to ground out to Hernandez for the final out of the game.

“I just wanted to make the out first before celebrating with my team,” said Hernandez, who was playing in her final high school game. “There’s something special about North Star softball. You’ve got to experience it to know it.”