A short ride atop a fire truck from EastSide Centre to the high school helped the East Peoria softball team lessen the sting of a loss Saturday in the Class 3A state championship game.
So did a reception in the high school’s air-conditioned cafeteria that was filled with family and friends.
So did senior Caitlin McWhirter pushing a piece of cake into the face of Coach Denee Menzione after East Peoria Athletic Director Brad DuBois, Menzione and players gave emotional speeches.
The Raiders’ 2-0 loss to Marengo in the state title game didn’t go away, but it was pushed aside temporarily.
“I wish I could bottle your competitiveness,” DuBois told the players. “I could see it in your eyes that you expected to win every time you played. That’s why the loss (Saturday) hurts so much, but it’s also the reason why you got this far in the postseason.”
How far? No East Peoria sports team had ever — that’s ever — competed in a state championship game before the Raiders did it Saturday. And on their home field at EastSide Centre, no less.
“When you get over this loss, you’ll realize what you accomplished this season,” DuBois told the players. “What you did means so much to me and our community. It’s something that’s needed to happen at our high school.”
DuBois thanked the players’ parents.
He said now that he’s a father himself, he understands the sacrifices parents make their so children can play sports.
“I used to bow hunt and play golf a lot. Now I don’t do either very much and I’m terrible at both. But that’s fine. It’s all worth it,” he said.
Menzione also thanked the players’ parents. And she thanked the team’s seven seniors for making school history.
“Thank you seniors for the mark you left on East Peoria, me and each other,” Menzione said.
Senior stars Ashley Emert and Remi Ferguson spoke to the crowd.
Emert was emotional after the state championship game. Her throwing error led to a run and she made the last out at the end of hard-fought 10-pitch at-bat.
But she was smiling at the reception as she approached a lectern with a lap top that had her notes for a speech.
Well, smiling for a while. Emert broke down when she thanked Menzione for helping her on and off the field and she praised her teammates.
“I can’t think of a better way to finish my high school career,” Emert said.
Ferguson said no words “can do justice” to explain how she felt about her teammates.
“I can’t believe that was the last time I’ll play on Diamond No. 2 (at EastSide Centre),” she said. “A piece of my heart will be with everyone here next fall.”