GENEVA – A pocket of softball fans accelerated tradition Wednesday afternoon, singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the second inning of St. Charles East’s home game against St. Charles North.
In past springs, Jillian Waslawski might have been part of the chorus. She’s close with her older sister, North senior center fielder Kaitlyn Waslawski, and usually attended her games.
This time, however, Jillian Waslawski was charged with ensuring the Saints didn’t stretch the Upstate Eight Conference River Division rival North Stars into extra innings.
With a runner aboard, two outs and East trailing by a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, the freshman right-hander delivered, getting the Saints’ Alex Latoria on a pop-up to conclude a 4-3 win.
“It’s really cool to be a part of it and be on the field now,” Jillian Waslawski said.
North (11-3, 7-2 UEC River) handed East (14-3, 7-2) its second loss in as many days.
A three-run first inning set the tone for the North Stars, who scored runs on a passed ball, a botched rundown and third baseman Erin Nemetz’s RBI single.
Jordyn Wolfe’s run-scoring sacrifice extended North’s lead an inning later, and despite Saints righty Jordan Hall’s sterling recovery down the stretch, the deficit ultimately proved too much for the Saints.
“You know what, whether [runs were] earned or unearned, depending on, obviously, how you score it, we need to do a better job to start,” East coach Kelly Horan said. “We did some very good things in this game, and sometimes, when you have such a great start like we did, you need a little bit of adversity, and now we’re going to use that.
“Because I guarantee you I’m going to have some ballplayers that are going to come and have a great practice tomorrow.”
The North Stars channeled their own productive recent workouts, which have hinged on defense and boosted the team’s resolve as well as its skill level.
Even as Latoria, an Evansville-bound third baseman, fouled away pitches in the seventh – her opposite field double in the third drove in East’s first run of the game – North maintained its poise.
“In the beginning, we were really relaxed, and we just knew we had to play our game,” North shortstop Allison Hausl said. “I mean, toward the end, when it got close, we had confidence in Jillian and we had confidence in our defense. We knew if we stayed calm, we could get the win.”
Waslawski scattered six hits, three strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter while mixing her fastball, changeup and drop curve.
After East rallied for two runs in the fourth to close to within the final margin, she retired nine of the last 11 Saints she faced.
Delaney Devor reached on an error with two outs in the sixth, bringing the potential go-ahead run to the plate. Waslawski’s location helped her escape damage with a fly ball out, just as it did against Latoria.
“I was trying to get [Latoria] to chase a lot of balls outside, but she’s a very good hitter, so she’s a very hard girl to pitch against,” Waslawski said.
Hall, however, retired the last 10 North batters and didn’t allow a hit after Alex Millett’s double leading off the fourth. She struck out four, walked one and hit two batters. Katie Kolb singled twice for the Saints.
“Nobody was down,” Horan said, “because that’s not who we are. We’re a good hitting team. We can be very good defensively. We just weren’t. So it’s nice to see that all of us stayed into it and had the belief that we were going to win the whole time.”
Of course, the team that never trailed stuck to the same mindset, producing a result that will prevail until the teams meet at North on May 8.
“With such good hitters on East’s team, I felt like with me and our defense, we were just able to come together and really make some magic happen,” Waslawski said.