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Paige Murray makes herself right at home in Peoria for state champion St. Charles North. ‘This is a magical place.’

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PEORIA — It just might be her very own field of dreams.

Junior pitcher Paige Murray has a track record in the state playoffs at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex that is fast becoming the stuff of legends at her school, St. Charles North.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Murray said. “It’s amazing, and it hasn’t sunk in just yet.

“But this is a magical place.”

The ace right-hander provided more magic Saturday, striking out two and scattering eight hits and three walks in a 7-2 win over powerhouse Marist in the Class 4A state championship game.

Murray relied on stout defense behind her and timely hitting by the North Stars (26-6), who topped the RedHawks (36-4) for the second time in three seasons for the title. It was Marist’s fourth straight appearance downstate.

In 2022, Murray was a freshman reliever for the North Stars and threw the final two innings of both games they played at state, recording a save in a 2-0 semifinal win over Edwardsville and earning the victory in a 3-2 decision over Marist.

Add Friday’s complete-game effort in a 2-1 win over Oswego, and Murray has three wins and a save in four appearances in Peoria.

St. Charles North’s Ginger Ritter (8) tags out Marist’s Jacklyn Pigatto (7) at second base during the Class 4A state championship game at Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Rob Dicker / The Beacon-News)

“She is so tough mentally, strong and moves on from one moment to the next,” St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. “She tries to win every moment. She’s committed to every moment, and it doesn’t matter who the other team is.

“She’s been like that all year. The bumps in the road are learning experiences, and she takes them and grows. She’s just getting better and better every day.”

Murray (19-5) spotted Marist a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but senior second baseman Maddie Hernandez homered on the first pitch from Gianna Hillegonds to force a 1-1 tie.

Later in the inning, junior left fielder Addy Umlauf chipped in with an RBI single for a 2-1 lead.

Marist tied things up again with an RBI double from Gabi Novickas in the third, and it remained that way until the sixth when Umlauf hit an RBI triple to the warning track in right-center.

St. Charles North's Maddie Hernandez (2) picks up a grounder and prepares to throw it to first for the final out of the game. St. Charles North defeated Marist 7-2 in the Class 4A state championship at Louisville Slugger Sports Complex, Saturday, June 8, 2024(Rob Dicker / Daily Southtown)
St. Charles North’s Maddie Hernandez (2) fields a grounder and prepares to throw against Marist during the Class 4A state championship game at Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Rob Dicker / The Beacon-News)

“We knew from scouting that she worked the right side of the plate, and I was trying to take it that way,” Umlauf said. “I was surprised it went that far with the wind blowing in.”

The next two batters reached and sophomore shortstop Ginger Ritter eventually followed with a three-run homer, her second of the season, to boost the lead to the final margin.

“We definitely got it done here,” said Hernandez, who had the winning hit against Marist in 2022. “I came in with an approach hunting for an inside pitch and got one.”

Poulin wasn’t surprised.

“It’s funny, that’s just kind of how this story was supposed to be written,” he said. “They’re gonna punch you first and we’re not gonna back down. Any adversity, we wanted to answer.

“And Maddie answered right away.”

St. Charles North's Addy Umlauf (4) dances after hitting a triple. St. Charles North defeated Marist 7-2 in the Class 4A state championship at Louisville Slugger Sports Complex, Saturday, June 8, 2024(Rob Dicker / Daily Southtown)
St. Charles North’s Addy Umlauf (4) celebrates after hitting a triple against Marist during the Class 4A state championship game at Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Rob Dicker / The Beacon-News)

He wasn’t sure how to explain his team’s success against Marist.

“I’ve got nothing but respect for them,” he said. “That’s the greatest challenge — to play them. That locks you in. If you’re not focused and ready to go for somebody like that on this stage, something’s wrong with you.

“And our girls were ready. They’ve had a purpose since we started. Sticking together, being unselfish. All the cliches people talk about, they have lived, and they’re sincere about it. This is the reward you can get when you buy into a team concept.”

Murray had to face the top of Marist’s order for a fourth time in the top of the seventh but simply stuck with her plan.

“Go in with the mindset it’s a 0-0 game and go at them like I did the whole game,” she said. “It’s nice to have a five-run cushion, but I’m just thinking next pitch, next pitch.”

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