St. Charles East won 33 games this past softball season, the most successful in program history to date.
Incidentally, the Saints had a little more than 33 hours to salute their efforts before summer camp opened Monday morning. Advancing to the 4A state championship game created a welcome time crunch.
“For the first time in memory, I actually had the returning kids run up to camp, like, ‘Oh my God!’ Just loud and boisterous,” East coach Kelly Horan said. “That was pretty awesome, I’m not going to lie to you.”
Horan, the Kane County Chronicle Softball Coach of the Year, sticks with the same adjective when addressing a season that saw the Saints jump from 20 victories – including zero in the postseason – in 2012.
The key for the 33-6 Saints was what Horan called a team-wide investment into an old-school, “full-speed all of the time” system. It extended from longtime contributors and senior standouts Olivia Lorenzini and Lexi Perez to freshman starting left fielder Katie Kolb.
“My approach hasn’t really changed in five years here,” Horan said. “It’s just that these kids kind of knew what to expect. So I appreciate the trust they had in me to say, ‘OK, coach, we’re going to do it and do it your way.’ I’ve always had kids do that before, but this is the first time I really had everyone buy into that system. I’ve got some awesome, awesome kids as ballplayers and I’m pretty lucky to be their coach.”
East’s season was not without adversity. Before a six-inning, run-rule loss to Minooka in Saturday’s state championship game, the Saints needed a two-out, two-strike, two-run double from Lorenzini in the seventh to advance with a semifinal victory against Barrington, which entered the game at 35-1.
In addition, the Saints suffered a sweep at the hands of crosstown rival St. Charles North, which went on to the Upstate Eight Conference River Division crown, and faced separate deficits in its St. Charles East Sectional final victory against Glenbard North.
Horan could be spotted in playful exchanges with the Saints even then, a highlight of an upbeat but businesslike demeanor.
“We’re definitely a fun team,” Saints junior Sarah Collalti said. “Just super excited all the time and always pulling for one another.”
East will graduate its three captains, with catcher Shelby Holtz joining right fielder Lorenzini and shortstop Perez.
With a school board salute set for Tuesday (in tandem with East’s third-place 4A baseball team) and the year-end banquet on tap for later this month, the Saints aren’t liable to forget that senior trio.
Then again, they’ve also greeted summer ball – traditionally held on the weekend after the state tournament – with glee.
“We’re still celebrating 2013, there’s no doubt,” Horan said, “... but the kids I have coming back understand that we’ve got some holes to fill and we want to get better, and that’s fantastic.”