ST. CHARLES – A nonconference doubleheader heavily impacted St. Charles North’s run to the Upstate Eight Conference River Division softball title.
Naturally, the games did not count in the standings, but the lesson of the last out still resonates for the North Stars.
Three days removed from sending previously unbeaten Naperville Central to its first loss with a stunning seventh-inning rally Tuesday, North turned a similar trick against host St. Charles East.
Abby Howlett’s two-run, two-out, two-strike single provided the go-ahead runs in a four-run seventh. Sabrina Rabin’s 1-2-3 inning in the bottom half preserved a 5-3 win that left the team feeling a lot like it did Saturday.
“It really taught us that the game’s not over until they tell you to line it up, and anything can happen in the last inning,” Howlett said. “You have to play it all the way through.”
North (19-5, 15-2 UEC River) was on the verge of bowing to the Saints’ Haley Beno eight days after earning a 10-0, run-rule victory against East (25-5, 14-4).
For the first six innings, Beno kept the North Stars off balance by mixing pitches. She allowed only Emily Brodner’s run-scoring sacrifice fly in the first inning and caught three of her six strikeout victims looking.
Once the seventh rolled around, North wasn’t about to keep quiet. Bringing the same hardened glare she showed in the batting cage moments earlier, freshman pinch-hitter Samantha Hausl opened the inning with a single. She scored two batters later on a Rabin single, drawing North to within 3-2.
The North Stars might not have had the lead yet, but players said they sensed a shift from the time Hausl and center fielder Andrea Beal reached base to start the inning. The team trailed Naperville Central, 4-3, with two outs and the bases empty before it struck.
At least this time they had a head start against Beno, a right-hander they were familiar with.
“She’s a very good pitcher, and she has a lot of different pitches. It was mostly the same as last game,” North second baseman Kaitlyn Waslawski said. “Mostly, we hit her pretty good. She’s a talented pitcher, and it was a good game overall.”
Howlett, who patiently fouled off a series of Beno risers and outside fastballs, smacked a sharp grounder that Saints shortstop Lexi Perez nearly gloved.
An outfield error scored North counterpart Mickey Goetz and accounted for the final margin.
With Beno hitting spots and the East attack delivering clutch hits, the Saints built a snug lead. Designated player Sarah Collalti – making her first start since recovering from a concussion – scored Kate Peterburs (two hits) with a double to tie the game in the fourth.
Olivia Cheatham followed with an RBI double that gave East the lead, which it padded with Cheatham’s run-scoring sac fly in the sixth. Saints coach Kelly Horan thought Beno deserved better run support, as East stranded six runners.
“We know exactly what we need to do a little bit better to get geared up for the postseason,” said Horan, whose team is the top seed in its own 4A sectional, two slots ahead of North.
“That’s why we’ve got two great opponents [DeKalb and Wheaton Warrenville South] coming in the next two days, to get the wheels back on. Sure, we’re disappointed, but like I said, it’s only the fifth loss. Who cares? OK, maybe ‘Who cares’ is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is only the fifth loss.”
North coach Tom Poulin, who joked the team won in spite of him after a botched sacrifice call in the seventh, tabbed Tuesday’s meeting with East “a much more beneficial game” than last week’s.
“You wouldn’t expect anything else between these two teams,” he said. “You would expect something coming down to the last at-bat.”
No matter who they’re facing, the North Stars know something about that lately. They also know they’re prepared to respond.