Marist seniors Caroline O’Brien (left) and Camryn Lyons hold the Class 4A state runner-up trophy after St. Charles North defeated the RedHawks, 7-2, in the championship game on June 8 in Peoria. Photo courtesy of Marist High School Athletics

Marist seniors Caroline O’Brien (left) and Camryn Lyons hold the Class 4A state runner-up trophy after St. Charles North defeated the RedHawks, 7-2, in the championship game on June 8 in Peoria. Photo courtesy of Marist High School Athletics

Softball | St. Charles North rides big inning over Marist for Class 4A state title

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By Randy Whalen
Correspondent

The final game was in doubt until the late innings but, in the end, Marist came up short in its bid for a second consecutive state championship.

St. Charles North (25-6) broke open a tied game by scoring five times with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, eventually capturing the IHSA Class 4A title with a 7-2 victory on June 8 at Louisville Sports Complex in Peoria.

The RedHawks were making their fourth straight Class 4A state title game appearance — with championships in 2021 and 2023 — and fifth trip in a row to the state finals. The state title game in 2022 involved the same two programs, and the outcome has been a North Stars victory both times.

North had clinched its spot in the championship game with a 2-1 walk-off win over Oswego in the semifinals.

Only two seniors — Camryn Lyons and Caroline O’Brien — graduate from this season’s state runner-up RedHawks.

Lyons was named to the Illinois Coaches Association’s All-State First team after a season in which she hit .488 with a .524 OBP and seven home runs, 44 RBI, 43 runs and 12 stolen bases. O’Brien earned All-State Second Team honors after posting a .406 batting average and .460 OBP with seven home runs, 35 RBI, 48 runs and 24 stolen bases.

“We have a very young team,” Marist coach Colleen Phelan said. “The seniors did a great job of taking the girls under their wings and teaching them Marist softball.”

Named to the All-State First team was junior third baseman Gabi Novickas, who hit .471 with a .544 OBP and 1.100 slugging percentage with 19 homers, 61 RBI and 49 runs.

Earning All-State Second Team honors were junior centerfielder Breanna Hanik and junior right-handed pitcher Gianna Hillegonds. Hanik had two hits in the title game and scored the RedHawks first run in the top of the first.

“I’m definitely disappointed but I couldn’t be more proud of the team,” Hanik said. “We will miss Camryn and Caroline. But the freshmen have made great progress, and we look forward to next year.”

With the game tied at 2, Hanik made a diving catch for the second out in the bottom of the sixth. That was the 12th straight batter retired by Hillegonds (24-2), but that streak was broken by a two-out walk that led to a five-run North rally.

Hillegonds went 6 2/3 innings, allowing seven earned runs on seven hits with three walks and nine strikeouts.

The state championship is the second for the North Stars (26-6) in the past three years. They also defeated Marist (36-4) 3-2 in 2022 for the Class 4A title.

Lyons had a first-pitch RBI single in the first. O’Brien led off the top of the third with a single to center, stole second and scored on an RBI double by Novickas.

Defensively, Lyons, who has committed to playing softball at Boston University, made a couple of sliding catches.

“It was just a reaction to the ball,” Lyons said. “There were a few amazing catches. Both teams were amazing on defense.

“I had faith in us the whole game, I believed in us,” she continued. “We could have come back, and sometimes you fall short. I’m so proud of everyone on the team. Everyone contributed. We are so close. I’m just proud of these girls.”

Phelan had faith in her seniors.

“She was calm, cool and collected all the time,” Phelan said of Lyons. “She led by example. She led vocally. She has been consistent for our lineup for the last couple of years.

“We could count on her to come through at any point. And the way she played defense this season has been unbelievable.”

O’Brien, who has committed to Notre Dame, started in three straight state championship games. She played center field as a sophomore, catcher as a junior and at shortstop as a senior.

“Caroline was an absolute true utility player,” Phelan said. “She was our sparkplug at the top of the lineup the past couple of years. Speed, power — you name it and she has it all. She was a truly special player that’ll go down in Marist history as one of the best to play.”

It was all in a day’s work for O’Brien.

“It’s all been fun,” O’Brien said. “The reason I could do it was because I could trust my teammates and coach trusted me. When you have trust in everyone around you, I truly believe you can do everything.”

With four freshmen (Mary Fortner, Lexi Kyros, Layla Peters, Soleil Tate) and a sophomore (Jacklyn Pigatto) starting on this season’s state runner-up team, the RedHawks will look to make another deep postseason run in 2025.

“Having four freshmen is really scary for the team,” O’Brien said of the future. “They really trusted in us, trusted me and Cam and trusted in themselves. Their future is really bright.

“I can’t wait to come back and watch them succeed.”

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