EAST PEORIA – It wasn’t a shutout, Haley Beno didn’t strike out 15 batters and the junior right-hander wasn’t on the field when the game ended.
Given the way Friday’s 3-2, St. Charles East win against Barrington in an IHSA Class 4A state softball semifinal played out, it’s understandable if Beno’s wasn’t the first name giddy Saints fans chattered about on their way back to the hotel.
But any softball fans who did even a smidge of research on Barrington’s offense knows that Beno did herself proud in the biggest game of her career. Until tonight’s state championship game, that is.
“My mindset was just to stay focused [and not worry about] what they’ve done and about how great of hitters they are and just try to throw my game,” Beno said.
Beno put five goose eggs on the scoreboard to start the game, and was starting to flirt with shutting out the Fillies’ dynamite offense for the first time all season.
That didn’t quite materialize, but Beno limited Barrington to single tallies in the sixth and seventh innings, keeping the slow-starting Saints offense within reach.
When the Saints’ bats came to life in the nick of time – culminating with senior Olivia Lorenzini’s two-out, two-strike, two-run double to end the game – it only mattered because of Beno’s performance.
Barrington arrived in East Peoria with 54 home runs on the season and an absolutely loaded lineup that accounted largely for the Fillies’ hard-to-believe 35-1 record. East coach Kelly Horan said the Saints didn’t dwell on the Fillies’ run-scoring prowess.
“You can scout as much as you want, and we got some information on all the teams that we play, but we never overdo it, OK,” Horan said. “It always comes down to if we play our game. Haley Beno executed our gameplan fantastically. She didn’t back down. I couldn’t be more proud of her.
“I mean, holy cow. Olivia’s going to get the headlines because that’s a big, old hit, but Haley Beno’s what kept us in the game.”
Beno is a heck of a pitcher, as her 22-4 record attests, but it’s still fair to consider her performance against Barrington a pleasant surprise.
Beno isn’t dominant in a prototypical way. The Saints haven’t shut out an opponent in more than a month, and East’s last two opponents before Friday – Glenbard North (six runs) and Downers Grove South (three runs) – each were more productive offensively than the Fillies.
Beno did all the things a pitcher has to do against a superb offense. She threw strikes, changed speeds and locations and saw her defense play rock-solid behind her.
“I was just trying to throw it all around and just mix it up and try to keep them [off-balance],” said Beno, who scattered five singles while striking out three, walking one and hitting one batter.
The two runs Barrington scored both might have been avoidable.
In the top of the sixth of a scoreless game, Fillies standout third baseman Loren Krzysko came to the plate with a runner on third and two outs. After Horan came to the rubber for a conference, many thought the Saints would intentionally walk or pitch around the Arkansas recruit, but instead, Krzysko notched her 60th RBI of the season when she deposited a full-count pitch to left-center for a single.
The Fillies’ second run in the seventh came on a two-out, wild pitch.
“It was pretty frustrating,” said Beno, icing down her right shoulder after the game. “I felt pretty bad [about the wild pitch], but my offense had me, and they got it right back for me.”
Yes, the offense had Beno’s back for one extraordinary inning.
Beno had theirs throughout the ballgame.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or email@example.com.