ST. CHARLES – Sarah Collalti starred in the most dizzying inning of the St. Charles East softball season on Saturday, delivering a bases-clearing double to help the Saints win a 4A sectional title on their home field.
Her afternoon culminated with a victory lap around the field as players hailed a 7-6 victory against Glenbard North. The trot ended near the front of the East dugout, the same place where Collalti's season became blurry six weeks ago.
Collalti took a bat above the left eye before batting practice April 16 while walking behind an unknowing teammate who was stretching out her swing.
"I just fell on the ground," Collalti said, "and that was that."
Her recovery and the Saints' surge have been much more. Collalti's eye, once swollen shut, now is sharp enough to discern pitches from some of the state's top remaining aces.
East, long on the cusp of postseason success under cheerful coach Kelly Horan, happily has played into the final eight for the first time in nearly 20 years. This one took some moxie, as the Saints (31-5) faced deficits of 2-0 in the third inning and 5-2 in the fifth to advance to Monday's 4:30 p.m. Rosemont Supersectional against Downers Grove South.
"We're definitely a very fun team," said Collalti, a junior who has settled in at designated player since her late May return. "I mean, losing isn't fun, but we knew that we had what it takes to beat this team. And so we kept upbeat and kept pushing to get those extra runs."
Before addressing East's breakthrough bottom of the fifth – which included run-scoring hit-by-pitches from Alex Latoria and Kate Peterburs ahead of Collalti's heroics – Panthers coach Josh Sanew lamented lost chances to stagger the Saints.
"Put their heads down a little bit more for them," he said.
Glenbard North (26-5) left two runners in scoring position in its three-run fifth, as No. 2 hitter Alex Caliva flied out to Saints right fielder Olivia Lorenzini to end the inning.
East capitalized quickly, loading the bases with no outs on ninth-place hitter Shelby Holtz's opposite field single to right and a pair of would-be sacrifices gone better. Lexi Perez beat out her bunt for an infield hit. Tess Hupe (three hits) reached on her bunt when Caliva did not get over from second base to cover first in time.
A dugout that never lowered its volume then rose up.
"We all just get into it, and at the end, we were just hungry," said Holtz, a senior catcher. "We wanted this win and we were going to do anything it took to get it."
Collalti ultimately shrugged her shoulders at her double, which came on a 1-2 pitch from Lafayette-bound Panthers ace Lindsey Cherry.
After flying out to center field in her first at-bat and smacking an RBI sacrifice fly there to tie the game at 2-all in the fourth, Collalti jumped on a high, outside pitch her third time up. With the bases loaded and the Saints trailing, 5-4, Collalti was "totally surprised" when she sent the ball over the head of Panthers center fielder Sarah Petzold and to the wall.
"I like to think I'm a consistent contact hitter," Collalti said. "I wasn't originally getting on. I was having a lot of flyouts to center, and I was hoping that I could get just one that was right over enough. And that finally happened."
Equally sudden was her injury, which Collalti described as "one out of a thousand." Assistant coach Jared Gutesha called East trainers right away, and Collalti, who never lost consciousness, was taken to the emergency room.
"It just kind of happened. It happened so fast. It was rough," Holtz said. "It wasn't a good thing, but she came back well from it, obviously. She delivered today, clearing the bases, so that was awesome."
In the first weeks after the accident, Collalti could sense her brain moving slower, affecting her memory and schoolwork. She was cleared to play for the final weeks of the regular season, returning to a team that won 18 straight games largely in her absence.
Junior righty Haley Beno, one of the stablizing forces during that surge, appreciated the pick-me-up Saturday after scattering 11 hits, three walks and two strikeouts.
Beno also yielded two home runs, including Petzold's blast to right on the first pitch of the seventh that drew Glenbard North to within the final margin.
"I just had to try to stay focused, and I really had to rely on my defense that game because I was not pitching very well," Beno said. "But they had me. And my offense had me, too."