EAST PEORIA – Even with the feeling of finishing fourth at state still fresh in her mind, Amboy freshman Karlee Doege was still thinking ahead Saturday at the EastSide Centre.
"Hopefully next year, we can come back and win it all," she said, running her fingers over the 1A fourth-place medal around her neck. "I mean, before this year we hadn't won a sectional, so why can't we win state?
"If we work as hard as we have the last few weeks and months, I don't see why we can't make a return trip back."
Even as she said it, she realized it won't be the same. The loss of five seniors means next year's team will have a few holes to fill, and she knows the team dynamic will change and those graduates will be sorely missed.
But for those starters who are coming back – and the reserves who will be starters the next couple of years – the experience over the weekend will be invaluable to their efforts to return to East Peoria.
"It's really great to get down here and find out what it's like," she said. "Fourth place is excellent, and we'll enjoy this for awhile. But I don't think we'll be satisfied just to make it down here once."
First-timers club: Six of the eight teams in the 1A and 2A state softball tournament this weekend were competing in the event for the first time.
All four 1A squads were there for the first time, and the Clippers realized how special it was to be joined by a group of newbies.
"I can't describe how cool it is to have everybody enjoying their first trip," senior Micaela McCoy said. "We're all at the same level, we've all succeeded, and we're all making history."
"We've been dreaming about this since we all started playing when we were 6 years old," classmate Kelsie Thurman added, "and it's been amazing. The other teams are probably feeling the same thing."
It was inevitable, then, that some team would win the 1A state championship for the first time. The lucky winner was Altamont, who used a two-run home run by senior catcher Lauren White in the bottom of the sixth inning to beat Trico 2-1.
Not only was it the first trip to state for Altamont's softball program, but it was a first in school history as well. No other Indians team had ever made it to a state tournament.
"We're just so thankful to be in this position," coach John Niebrugge said. "To come to the first state tournament in school history, and then to win the big trophy … you can't beat it."
Pioneer power: After rallying its way to several comeback victories throughout the postseason, Alleman wasn't about to stop when they fell behind 3-2 in the 2A state championship game.
After Teutopolis' Julie Wente ripped a three-run home run in the top of the fourth, the Pioneers (32-6) took an inning to compose themselves before finishing off their dream season with the program's sixth softball state title.
Lexi Ferrari led off the bottom of the fifth with a game-tying inside-the-park home run, then Mackenzie Sanchez – whose grand slam lifted Alleman to a 7-5 semifinal win Friday – ripped a two-run homer to give the Pioneers the lead for good.
"I would never have believed in a million years that I would hit two home runs at the state tournament," Sanchez said. "I wasn't trying to do anything special; it just happened to go out."
An inning later, Ferrari doubled home two more runs, then Molly Ethington capped the scoring with a two-run shot as Alleman padded the lead to 9-3.
The Pioneers had to wait to celebrate, however, as the game was suspended with one out in the top of the seventh when the IHSA's lightning detector went off. After a 43-minute delay, Alleman got the final two outs in a steady rain for its first softball championship since 1998.
"I had no doubt at all that we would come back and win this game," Ferrari said. "It's what we've always done, especially in the postseason, and I'm so proud of this team finishing off this amazing season."