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Clutch Lorenzini delivers St. Charles East softball semifinal thriller

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EAST PEORIA – Olivia Lorenzini tried to tune out the screams of encouragement and the less friendly cheers from the other side.

"You're a Fighting Saint!" one man implored after she fouled off one of the five, two-strike pitches she spoiled.

The pleading shouts from the Saints' dugout proved near impossible to ignore. Her teammates begged her to keep battling Barrington pitcher Keenan Dolezal, to summon every ounce of courage she had and deliver the St. Charles East softball team a moment it would never forget.

The senior obliged.

Lorenzini ended an excruciating, battle of wills with Dolezal by cranking a full-count pitch to deep center field for a two-run, game-winning double as East rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 3-2 victory Friday against Barrington in an IHSA Class 4A state semifinal.

The Saints will take aim at the first state championship in program history at 5:30 p.m. today at the EastSide Centre against Minooka.

Lorenzini took a tentative cut on the second strike of the at-bat. It wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring, but she located her moxie – and her swing – when the Saints had no margin for error.

"Honestly, I was just trying to block everything out because there were like a million people screaming and screaming," Lorenzini said. "I heard my teammates say 'We believe in you, we believe in you!' I have great teammates that are going to pick me up when I'm down, and I was down at the beginning of the game."

Lorenzini, East's No. 3 hitter, was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts before her blast just beyond the reach of Barrington center fielder Tess Bolger, who scurried back on the ball in an admirable act of defensive desperation.

Bolger came close enough to making a play that there was a delayed reaction to Lexi Perez and Tess Hupe zooming home with the winning runs, even from Saints coach Kelly Horan.

"When the ball left the bat, I was like 'Oh, easy hit, that's going to score two, we win,' " said Horan, whose family bought and sold a house to add to her memorable Friday. "But then the center fielder made that a much closer play than I anticipated. I was kind of making sure that I saw everything correctly – off the fence, on the ground, one is in, two is in, Olivia is standing [at second base]. I look at the umpire, he goes game over. I was kind of crossing my T's, dotting my I's on that one."

The game was scoreless through five innings but the Fillies (35-2) scored single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to take a 2-0 lead.

East (33-5) had the bottom of its order due up in the seventh after squandering some quality chances earlier, so matters appeared bleak. But junior Sarah Collalti smacked an opposite field double to left to lead off the inning, and East's dugout perked up in resounding fashion.

After an Olivia Cheatham popout, Horan turned to a pinch-hitter – junior Mackenzie Lofgren – in the No. 9 hole of East's order, and Lofgren singled to center to put two runners aboard. Lofgren, who entered the game tied for second fewest at-bats (35) on the team this season, was surprised to see herself injected into such a crucial situation.

"I am," Lofgren said. "I'm really, really surprised, and I'm really happy that I was able to aid my team and get this far. It's really exciting."

Perez followed with an RBI single to trim Barrington's advantage to 2-1 before Hupe's fielder's choice grounder became the second out, leaving two aboard for Lorenzini.

After a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, Lorenzini notched arguably the biggest hit in program history, sending the Fillies to their first loss since a 15-inning defeat to Marengo on April 20, and leaving veteran Barrington coach Perry Peterson to deal with a crushed group of teenagers.

"We tried to remind our kids that the other team earned it. They earned it fair and square," said Peterson, whose team will play York for third place today. "They got four hits in the last inning and did what was needed to be successful and win. Congratulations to St. Charles East. We'll move on. There's another game tomorrow."

Saints junior pitcher Haley Beno (22-4) turned in an outstanding outing, especially given Barrington's reputation as an offensive juggernaut. Arkansas-bound Barrington third baseman Loren Krzysko notched a two-out, RBI single in the sixth for the game's first run, and the Fillies' second run came on a wild pitch in the seventh.

Aside from that, Beno stood tall, scattering five hits and benefiting from an errorless afternoon by the Saints' defense.

"How about Haley Beno?" Horan said. "She came and she just threw her stuff."

Despite the Saints' lofty record – and a 19-game, midseason winning streak – Barrington arrived in East Peoria as a clear favorite to win the state title. Not in Horan's book, though.

"I know that team's got 54 home runs, blah blah blah – my 13 kids are winners, and I'll take them anywhere," Horan said.

After the game, emotions naturally ran high for the Saints, and that held especially true for Lorenzini.

St. Charles will soon be far in her rearview mirror. Lorenzini plans to relocate to Arizona – where she was born and her mother is moving – and attend Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. 

Earlier this week, Lorenzini said she hoped to walk-on Grand Canyon's team, but the coach wasn't sure there would be a spot.

After a hit that will go down in Saints history, Lorenzini wasn't ready to give up on her college softball prospects.

"I'll send her another email," Lorenzini said.

IHSA Class 4A Softball State Finals

Friday's semifinals at EastSide Centre in East Peoria

St. Charles East 3, Barrington 2

Minooka 6, York 3

Today's championship game

St. Charles East (33-5) vs. Minooka (22-8), 5:30 p.m.

Barrington (35-2) vs. York (23-15), 3 p.m.

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