SYCAMORE – It hadn't sunk it yet for Jill Carpenter, head coach of the Sycamore High School girls softball team, even after the game in East Peoria, the escort through town and during the celebration at the high school's main gym Saturday night.
“It’s been surreal so far. I think once I can finally sit down and absorb it all, it’ll really sink in,” she said. “It’s the first time there’s been a state championship for a team sport, here, for the girls at this school, and this was our first trip down to state for softball."
Saturday, after making it its first appearance in the state tournament, the Spartans made history winning the IHSA’s Class 3A state championship. The route to the title included a dramatic come from behind win against Mount Zion on Friday and a shut-out win against St. Francis on Saturday.
Outfielder Ally Polly said that leading up to the title game, she thinks the team shared a common feeling.
“I think a lot of us were anxious,” she said at Saturday's celebration. “We weren’t nervous, but the whole day we were like, 'OK, we’re ready to play. We’re ready to get out there.’”
Carpenter attributed the team’s success to “good team cohesion,” saying they worked hard to stick together.
“We play or practice six days a week, and this was our 15th week together,” she said. “That’s a really long time. They’ve done a really good job, trying to separate school from softball. What’s nice about the postseason is school’s done, so all they had to do was focus on softball.”
Between bits of pizza and conversation, the team gathered to celebrate and reflect on making history.
Pitcher Faith Reynolds said she knew anything was possible for the team.
“It was a far-fetched dream, but we knew that we had what it takes to work for it,” she said.
Catcher Mia Richards said that winning the state title is a huge deal.
“We went from the bottom of the food chain, we used to say, to the top of our school,” she said.
Reynolds shared that sentiment.
“It was so unheard of for softball to win conference or win a regional,” she said, referring to the Sycamore team’s postseason history.
During the celebration the last three innings of the game were replayed on a big screen TV for the team to view.
Carpenter said that’s when all the action happened.
Reynolds said she didn’t feel any mounting pressure from the opposing team’s batters.
“I kept throwing the same thing, and they weren’t catching on to it,” she said. “When they would hit it into the field, the team behind me would make a good play to get the out.”
Polly, who sparked the game-winning rally, said that knowing she helped bring a title to Sycamore means a lot to her.
“Mentally, I was telling myself, ‘I could do it, and I really want to do it for my team,’” she said.
Carpenter thanked the entire town for coming out and celebrating with the team.
On the road back to Sycamore, the DeKalb Fire Department escorted the Spartans, and that duty was picked up a short time later by the Sycamore Fire Department.
“We had so many downtown lining the streets,” Carpenter said. “That was really special.”