ROSEMONT – Monday’s supersectional softball game at The Ballpark at Rosemont got off to a very late start, but the wait was well worth it for St. Charles East.
The Saints (32-5) defeated Downers Grove South, 6-3, to advance to the state tournament for only the second time in the school’s history and the first as St. Charles East.
“It’s very exciting,” East leftfielder Katie Kolb said. “I honestly truly believe we wanted it more than anyone.”
How badly the Saints wanted it was tested even before the game started as they endured a prolonged wait for their opponent to arrive. The Mustangs were caught in a traffic jam on the Tri-State Tollway caused by a truck hitting an overpass and did not arrive in their dugout until 4:40 p.m., 10 minutes after the game’s scheduled start time. Both teams still had to go through mandatory pre-game warmups and the first pitch was not thrown until 5:25 p.m.
After a pair of scoreless innings, the Saints erupted for four runs in the top of the third. Center fielder Tess Hupe began the rally with a one-out bunt single. East got another base runner when Downers Grove South shortstop Jessica Andree couldn’t make a backhand play on Olivia Lorenzini’s hard grounder. With two outs, Kolb beat out a slow roller to second to drive in the first run of the game.
It was the second of three hits Kolb had in the contest.
“I’ve been in a slump lately, but … my team’s always there supporting me,” Kolb said. “I’m very lucky to have the team I have.”
East first baseman Kate Peterburs then drilled a pitch from Mustang freshman Caroline Hedgcock (15-8) deep to center for a triple that scored two runs.
“That was wild,” Peterburs said. “I really needed that hit because my first [at-bat] I struck out. … I had a lot of anger in me. I had a lot of ‘I need to get this through.’ I took the first pitch and I was aggressive and hit it. I was really excited.”
Sarah Collalti made it 4-0 with a sharp single to left.
The Mustangs (22-11) repeatedly threatened in the middle innings, but East pitcher Haley Beno kept them in check with a little help from her defense and some Downers Grove South base running blunders.
Kristin Lea doubled to open the bottom of the third and tried to go to third after Kristen Bialek beat out a grounder to short. Peterburs alertly threw across the diamond to Alex Latoria, who tagged Lea out after she slid past the bag.
The next inning, Hupe threw out Caitlyn Daly trying to stretch a single into a double and in the fifth the Mustangs failed to score despite having a runner on third and no one out.
“When you slide on this [artificial] surface, you go a little farther than you would on dirt,” Downers Grove South coach Ron Havelka said. “That hurt a little bit and we had a runner at third, nobody out. We hit the ball. We got it out to the outfield, but not deep enough to score and sometimes that’ll come back to haunt you and it did a little bit.”
The Mustangs finally broke through with a pair of runs in the sixth on a pair of RBI groundouts from Daly and Hedgcock, but the Saints got a couple of big insurance runs in the top of the seventh. A hit batter, an error, and a bunt single by Lorenzini loaded the bases for Kolb and she singled up the middle to plate a pair.
Kolb said she was motivated by the knowledge that Downers Grove South was capable of making a comeback.
“If you look at Naperville Central, they came back and beat them coming back from 6-0 being down,” Kolb noted. “I just knew I had to help my team out a little more.”
East coach Kelly Horan was also well aware of the Mustangs’ track record.
“I liked how my kids responded to their two runs,” she said. “That was great. I was just really pleased with our overall attack at the plate and we played good defense when we needed to.”
The Saints collected 11 hits, including two each from Hupe and Collalti. They did give up an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh, but Beno got a fly ball to right to end the game. Beno allowed seven hits, struck out five, and walked two to help send East to East Peoria to play Barrington at 3 p.m. Friday.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Horan said. “These kids are going to come home with a trophy and their name is forever going to be in history at St. Charles East.”