PALATINE – It turns out St. Charles North’s softball team headed into the biggest week of its season with an ace up its sleeve.
The North Stars, a No. 5 sectional seed after a quarantine-shortened 10-7 regular season, upset No. 1 seed St. Charles East on Tuesday behind sophomore pitcher Ava Goettel — who spent the season in a secondary role to senior Anastasia Pappas.
St. Charles North gave the ball to Goettel again Thursday in the sectional championship game, and she held No. 2 Fremd to one run in 5 1/3 innings before Pappas finished off the 8-2 win.
The North Stars advance to the Class 4A supersectional Monday at Sandburg against Lincoln-Way Central with an unlikely 14-7 record — and an unlikely pitcher leading the way.
“It’s really fun to catch teams by surprise,” said Goettel, who allowed just two hits and one walk. “I’m the younger one too and it’s fun to catch teams off guard.”
North Stars coach Tom Poulin said Goettel made an impression during DuKane Conference wins over Wheaton North and Lake Park. He also likes the North Stars defensively when Pappas plays shortstop, and she made one of those good plays to start the game that kept Fremd leadoff hitter Kalyn McCarthy and her 44 steals off the bases.
“I said I would be a fool not to keep the same lineup that worked against the one seed,” Poulin said. “You beat the one seed, you keep the same lineup. That lineup card was made after the East game.”
St. Charles North won its fifth sectional championship, all under Poulin — the first in 2011 when the North Stars finished second in the state.
Fremd (23-9) knows that all too well after a fourth straight season-ending sectional loss to a St. Charles school — three times North and once East.
“It gets a little frustrating when you are seeing the same opponent every year,” said Fremd coach Josh Teschner, who was impressed with Goettel’s ability to hit her spots and keep his lineup off-balance.
“We didn’t have a ton on her other than East. This is a credit to their coaches. They are getting hot at the right time and she’s leading the way. Pappas is a heck of a pitcher but Goettel was fantastic today.”
The North Stars took a 1-0 lead in the second against Fremd starter Grace Hiller on a wild pitch with two outs. Third baseman Calista DiVito prevented a bigger inning with a leaping catch on a liner, then North Stars second baseman Margo Geary made her own web gem in the bottom half by racing into short right field for a diving catch.
The North Stars made it 4-0 in the third, capitalizing on a pair of Fremd errors.
Ava Jordan, who came into the year a slapper but is hitting .390 since Teschner changed her back to the right-side, homered in the fifth to get Fremd on the board.
St. Charles North quickly answered with a three-run sixth to make it 8-1 including a two-run homer by catcher Sophia Olman. She also enjoyed her day behind the plate.
“She’s (Goettel) got a lot of movement,” Olman said. “She’s got a lot of emotion when she does well. I really enjoy catching her and am excited for the next couple years.”
Olman (3-for-4, homer, double), Pappas (2-4) and Megan Bauwens (2-4) combined for seven of the North Stars’ 9 hits.
“I feel we are just hitting our stride because of that break,” said Poulin, adding the team gained confidence in an early season loss to Huntley. “They are an incredible group that has come together from day one. It chokes me up because those kids are such good people and they deserve moments like this.”
Jordan went 2-for-3 for the Vikings. Gina Dudley pitched the final 4 1/3 innings after Hiller left in the third, allowing just one earned run.
“Grace and Gina are going to be all over the record books,” Teschner said. “They were both phenomenal all year long. Grace is just a fighter and competes and today was just one of those days where we were just not making the plays we needed.”