GENEVA – Mackenzie Lofgren was an overlooked piece in the St. Charles East softball team’s run to the IHSA Class 4A state championship game last year.
Then a junior, Lofgren uncorked a crucial pinch hit as part of East’s state semifinal seventh inning rally against Barrington in East Peoria.
Playing much closer to home Tuesday, Lofgren again flashed her penchant to deliver in a pinch, swatting an opposite field, solo home run to tie the Upstate Eight Conference River game with Geneva to lead off the top of the seventh. East went on to win, 4-3, in eight innings.
“[East coach Kelly Horan] always seems to put me up with all the pressure on,” Lofgren said with a laugh.
Lofgren’s drive to right-center field tied the score at 3 and swung momentum back in East’s favor after the Vikings overtook the Saints with two runs in the bottom of the sixth.
The homer off Geneva sophomore reliever Emily Plocinski was Lofgren’s second of the season.
“I was thinking ‘Don’t think,’ ” Lofgren said. “Don’t think because that’s going to stress me out. I was just trying my best to get it down somewhere and be able to get on base.”
Horan credited Lofgren for working ahead in the count and jumping on a favorable offering.
“This year her role right now is to be the designated hitter or pinch-hitter,” Horan said. “So that’s her job, and gosh, it’s always exciting when they have that one moment and they do something with it. I’m real excited and happy for her.”
East (20-5, 10-2 UEC River) scored the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth in less orthodox fashion.
With one out and nobody on, Saints junior Katie Kolb bunted softly back toward Plocinski and appeared likely to beat the throw, which ended up sailing down the right field line.
Taking second base on the play was a given, but Kolb – among the quicker Saints – wasn’t easily satisfied. Following Horan’s instructions, she wheeled toward third then rounded toward home, scoring comfortably on the play.
Horan said she opted to send Kolb “as soon as I saw the right fielder’s numbers” chasing the ball.
“At that point it’s a foot race, and Katie Kolb, she’s a good person to have in that position,” Horan said. “I’ve got a couple speed rockets, but as soon as we saw that girl’s number, I was like ‘OK, here we go.’ It was good for her that she didn’t stop.”
Kolb credited injured East catcher Mackenzie Meadows for helping set the play in motion.
“As our people on the bench, we pick up their pitching signs, so we knew a changeup was coming,” Kolb said. “Mackenzie Meadows was screaming my number so I knew the changeup was coming, and a changeup for me is the easiest pitch to bunt. If it wasn’t for ‘Kenzie, I wouldn’t have known that was coming.”
The Vikings (13-7, 6-4 UEC River) solved East right-hander Haley Beno (11-4) with outs in the bottom of the sixth, stringing together three straight doubles – from Annika Radabaugh, Kaitlyn Plocinski and Madison Keith – to grab a 3-2 lead.
Geneva coach Greg Dierks, though, thought the Vikings’ offense should have been more productive – and attentive – earlier in the game.
“We lost the game with the offense in the first five innings,” Dierks said. “We didn’t [execute] our bunts and we missed too many signs today, and every one of them cost us runs.”
East jumped ahead, 1-0, in the top of the first on a sharply struck RBI single by junior Alex Latoria.
The Vikings tied the game in the third after Jenelle Reilly doubled to lead off the inning and later scored on a double steal, but East moved back ahead, 2-1, on freshman Jordan Hieber’s RBI single in the fourth. Sarah Collalti and Hieber collected two hits each for the Saints.
Emily Plocinski relieved Vikings starter Rachel Fanella, who pitched four innings of two-run ball.
It was a frustrating conclusion for the Vikings, who continued to show they’re an improved team by taking the powerhouse Saints to extra innings.
“I’m not surprised that we can stick with anybody,” Dierks said. “When we play well, I think we’re good enough to stay on the field with anybody, including a good team like that.”