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Prep Softball Insider: Saints keep intensity off field, too

Kaneland's Lanie Callaghan connects for a hit against Yorkville during the Regional Championship game on Saturday in  Aurora. Karen Naess For The Kane County Chronicle
Kaneland's Lanie Callaghan connects for a hit against Yorkville during the Regional Championship game on Saturday in Aurora. Karen Naess For The Kane County Chronicle

Whatever it takes. The mantra has served St. Charles East coach Kelly Horan well this season as she guides a red-hot Saints squad into the Upstate Eight Conference River Division portion of its schedule.

Like the rest of the Chronicle-area teams, the Saints have dealt with mass game cancellations and days without seeing the field for practice. Horan is looking back at her playing career at Western Michigan, where she remembers practicing in all types of places to stay sharp, including hotel ballrooms and indoor practice facilities.

Trouble is, East doesn’t quite have the facilities that NCAA Division I Western Michigan does. With nearly all of the other sports teams forced inside, too, Horan has been forced to improvise on the fly with practice, using East’s school lunchroom, classrooms and even hallways to stay sharp.

It looks like the "Whatever it takes" attitude has helped East, which dusted off Elgin, 3-1, on Monday to improve to 12-3 and push its winning streak to nine games.

“It’s tough to build momentum when you’re missing so many games,” Horan said. “I’d [like] to play every day until June if I could. We can’t stress over it, though. After you get over that, you have to take those rain days and make the best of them. We’ve practiced in the lunchroom, classrooms and even hallways."

When East has taken the field, it has been the maturation of the teams’ pitchers that have carried the team thus far.

Haley Beno – fresh off a complete-game, three-hit, 14-strikeout performance against Elgin – and Alex Latoria have shut down opponents, with each pitcher sporting an ERA around 2. Beno is a varsity veteran while Latoria saw time at the end of her freshman campaign last season.
“Haley Beno has turned into a shut-down pitcher – the wins against Lake Park, Neuqua Valley and Bartlett, she shut those bats down,” Horan said. “She has limited the walks. For Haley, first five games to last five games, it’s been her walks. She’s hitting her spots, which allows us to call pitches and hopefully exploits the hitters’ weaknesses.”

Beno is 6-2 on the year with a miniscule 1.86 ERA. Her counterpart, Latoria, is turning in a banner sophomore season, standing at 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA.

“Alex is just a fighter. I would not want to face Alex. The higher the pressure, the greater she plays,” Horan said. “She is cool, calm and collected and is a fiery little pistol that I love watching pitch.”

With perhaps the toughest part of the schedule remaining, which includes the full UEC River slate, Horan hopes that all-around effort from her team continues going forward.

“I don’t think you can sleep on anyone in our conference. These are all well-seasoned kids we’re playing against,” Horan said. “If you do not bring your "A"game, you could get beat by any one of them. I don’t think anyone on our side of the conference you can sleep on. ”

Pick 3
Kaneland started the year without a true ace pitcher, instead spreading innings around to Ellissa Eckert, Anissa Becker and most recently, freshman Courtney Davis.

Knights coach Brian Willis takes a number of things into account when choosing a starting pitcher, but usually goes by his gut.  

“The pitchers are throwing strikes and letting the defense play. We’re happy that they’re making people hit their way on,” Willis said. “Our defense has been pretty good. I just go with a gut feeling on who I’m going to pitch. Courtney put herself in the mix after the way she threw [Monday].”

Davis picked up the win against Oswego East on Monday in a 7-4 victory that pushed Kaneland’s record to 9-2. Willis has been hands-on when dealing with each of his three pitchers.

“I probably use up every possible trip to the mound that I can during every game,” Willis said. “The fact that we haven’t been able to play a lot, I use a lot of game time for coaching. None of them throw real hard, but when they hit their spots they are really effective. Where they get themselves in trouble is when they start missing spots.”

Eckert has followed Willis’ game-plan in the early going, walking only four batters in 30 innings of work while Becker has been almost as stingy, yielding just three walks in 22 innings.

All day, every day
The recent string of rainouts has bunched up the schedule to the point where teams can count on playing nearly every day until playoff time.

The first game of the battle of St. Charles was lost to rain Tuesday and has been rescheduled for May 6.

Meanwhile, St. Francis plays nearly every day this week, with three conference games before a weekend tilt with a tough Glenbard South opponent.

In the Groove
Emily Kisch
Burlington Central, Fr.
What she did:
Kisch helped Burlington Central stay hot after firing a 14-strikeout no-hitter in the Rockets’ 9-0 win over Harvard on April 16. The win pushed BC’s overall record to 12-1.

Haley Beno
St. Charles East, Jr.
What she did:
Beno continued her torrid start in the circle, going the distance in a 3-1 win over Elgin on Monday while fanning 14 and only allowing three hits.  

What We Learned Last Week
The rain has put a damper on the start of the season, but not enough to get an idea of who the area’s top teams are. With a week left in April, Burlington Central’s start is not a fluke and St. Charles East and North have steady lineups with ace-caliber pitchers. Geneva and Batavia continue to look for consistency after slow starts to the year.

What We’ll Learn In the Week Ahead
How good St. Francis is. The Remus family has a good thing going with father Ralph leading pitcher Maggie and the rest of the deep Spartans to early-season success. Trouble is, St. Francis hasn’t seen the field much recently. That could change this week with SCC conference games against Rosary, Wheaton Academy and Walther Lutheran scheduled before a meeting with 3A power Glenbard South on Saturday.

Coach Sly Sez
Sly took time today for an anti-rain dance to spare the area of further washed out softball games. In one of the more uncooperative springs weather-wise in recent memory, Sly has the peanuts and scorecard ready to go whenever games start again. Sly wonders who has the depth to handle the unavoidable pile-up games that will litter upcoming schedules.

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