Last June, minutes after Beecher wrapped up its second IHSA Class 2A Softball State championship, murmurs about not being able to wait to defend the title already were coming up.
But for seniors Karly Bainbridge, Emily Hayhurst, Margaret Landis, Christina Lorenzatti and Kaylie Sippel, that chance never came after the 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus.
“It’s weird; I’m just waiting for something to happen,” Sippel said. “I’ve been looking at old texts about how we were waiting for the season to happen, and then it just never did.”
Bainbridge said at the end of the last practice they had before everything was put on pause, she had a feeling it would be the seniors’ last time getting together for practice.
“I kind of had a feeling that something like this would happen,” Bainbridge said. “The last time we met, Coach [Kevin Hayhurst] said, “Bye, seniors,” as we were all walking out, and I knew that was it. It was all so surreal.”
Sippel and Lorenzatti, returning second-team all-state selections, and Landis, a first-team all-state selection last year, were to give the Bobcats a trio of returning all-state talent. Lorenzatti returned to Beecher, where she spent her early elementary years before last season, but the other four seniors were all members of the past three Bobcat teams that played in state title games.
During the past three years, the Bobcats boasted an incredible 101-12 record, with a 2018 second-place trophy sandwiched by first-place finishes in 2017 and 2019.
As frustrating as it is the senior class never got the chance to become the first class in school history to play in a championship game all four years, Landis said the group can at least say they went out as champions after their 2019 title.
“I think [the memories] will stick with me more because they are my last softball memories,” Landis said. “I’m glad it ended the way it did, winning state, and I don’t have any regrets.”
For Bainbridge, it’s not just the on-field memories that will be missed but the off-field ones that went along with them.
“Just to even be able to go three times, to take first twice and be in a third championship is just awesome,” Bainbridge said. “We’d go celebrate with Steak ‘n Shake and then have a parade in town.”
There was about a month between the Illinois High School Association’s initial suspension of the season, in March before games even began, and when the season was canceled in April. For Landis, when the suspension began, she never envisioned the end result.
A fourth straight title game was anything but a promise, the 2020 Bobcats, led by this group of seniors, were primed for just that. For Sippel, part of the intrigue of defending their title came from wanting to show they were more than phenom pitcher Kayla Hon, who was in the circle for every sectional and state game in the Bobcats played in the past three years, and the rest of last year’s senior class.
“I look back at the articles from last year and the honors the seniors got, and it sucks we’ll never get that,” Sippel said. “The baseball kids [at Beecher] used to joke that we would be nothing without Kayla, so it kind of sucks we never got to show them.”
Hon’s replacement was set to be Hayhurst, the daughter of head coach Kevin Hayhurst. Despite playing second fiddle to Hon, Emily Hayhurst still found herself at or near the Top 10 in the area in a handful of pitching categories last season.
“She worked hard for four years on the mound, just like I expect all my kids to do,” Kevin Hayhurst said. “I really enjoyed watching her pitch in the summer last year, and I knew she got stronger and was ready to go. Her ball was moving, and it would have been a fun year.”
Although she didn’t toe the rubber in any of the past three title games, those moments, especially the 2019 championship, will be Emily Hayhurst’s most vivid memories.
“I guess the moment we all remember the most is winning state and that experience,” Emily Hayhurst said. “Even though I just watched most of the game, it was so cool being a part of that and watching our hard work pay off.
“I’d say we ended with a pretty good record.”
Kevin Hayhurst, who has four state rings in his 17 years in Beecher, is one of the most beloved coaches, regardless of sport or school, in the state. Bainbridge, Landis and Sippel all spoke highly of his character and coaching ability.
But for Emily, Kevin isn’t just “Coach Hay.” He’s also dad. They’ve spent their downtime during quarantine remaining active.
“We play a lot of golf in my household, and my brother [Jack] golfs, too,” Emily Hayhurst said. “We’ve just golfed a lot and watched a lot of baseball reruns.”
In a community as tight-knit as Beecher, none of the seniors will become strangers, especially because most of them have younger siblings who will be in action next year, and all of them will stay in the state for college.
Bainbridge is headed the farthest away as she prepares to play softball at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. Emily Hayhust will golf at Olivet Nazarene University, the same ONU where Landis will join her sister, Katelyn, and Hon on the softball team. Sippel and Lorenzatti will be conference rivals of the Tigers as the infielders set out for the University of St. Francis in Jolet.
Landis, who said the trash talk with Sippel and Lorenzatti already has begun, also won’t lose sight of the special bond this year’s senior class has.
“It’s very weird knowing we won’t be playing together and now [some of us] will be playing against each other,” Landis said. “But it was really a fun ride.”