ST. CHARLES – The bottom of the St. Charles East softball team's batting order might have kept the Saints' season afloat.
With the defending Class 4A state runners-up trailing Elk Grove by two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning Saturday, the bottom of the Saints' order ignited a five-run rally that stood up as the Saints won the IHSA Class 4A St. Charles East Regional title, 5-2, over the Grenadiers.
East catcher and No. 8 hitter Mackenzie Meadows supplied a one-out single off Elk Grove pitcher Megan Eul before No. 9 hitter Mackenzie Lofgren lofted a two-run homer barely beyond the reach of Elk Grove left fielder Alex Masnica, tying the score at 2.
"As I was rounding [first base], I saw her going straight to the fence, and I was like 'Oh my gosh, if she catches this, I'm going to cry,' " Lofgren said. "But I just kept my head down, kept running, and then I heard all the parents cheering, and I knew that was my cue to keep going."
Lofgren joked that she and East's other Mackenzie "were the dream team today" as they combined for four hits.
"I think that a lot of people underestimate the end of the order so I think it's always refreshing when we come up and we perform and we show them, 'Don't roll over on us because we're not rolling over on you,' " Lofgren said. "Keep them on their toes. I don't think that they were ready for that at all."
With the score tied and the pressure perhaps shifting to Elk Grove, the top of the Saints' order went to work, as East leadoff hitter Tess Hupe and No. 2 hitter Sarah Collalti reached on playable balls in the infield that the Grenadiers struggled to handle. East shortstop Olivia Cheatham then put the Saints up, 3-2, with an RBI single to left that deflected off Grens third baseman Sarah Pauscher's mitt.
Three batters later, Saints third baseman Alex Latoria came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. Latoria thought she drew a walk on a ball that actually made the count 3-2, forcing her to retreat back to the batter's box. She wasn't sheepish for long.
Latoria laced a single to left field that eventually allowed two runs to score. After the first run crossed, East's Katie Kolb was caught in a run-down between second and third base but extended the run-down long enough for Saints pinch-runner Cat Crossen to also score before Kolb was tagged for the inning's final out.
"That wasn't planned, obviously," East coach Kelly Horan said. "That was a mistake on our trail baserunning. However, the wherewithal for [Kolb] to fire back into 'Now, I can still do something,' she was very conscious of the fact that I need to stay in a rundown long enough for her to score, and Cat did a great job of getting the heck off the base and getting in there."
East (30-6) faced a 2-0 deficit after the Grens (29-8) made an early statement with a pair of solo home runs – from leadoff hitter Becca Maher and Masnica, Elk Grove's cleanup hitter – in the top of the first off Saints senior Haley Beno.
Beno, though, regrouped nicely, giving her offense multiple chances to bring the Saints back.
"I think I just tried to throw more on the corners and be a little sharper than I started the game, and I think that helped," Beno said.
Veteran Elk Grove coach Ken Grams lamented squandered chances to widen the lead in the second, third and fourth innings. The top of the fourth ended on a disputed double play in which Kolb bobbled a ball in right field but came up with the catch before doubling off an Elk Grove runner; the ball might have also deflected off East second baseman Jordan Hieber before Kolb gathered it, while some spectators thought the ball hit the ground.
"We needed to keep up the pressure [in the early innings]," Grams said. "If we could have scored some more there, it becomes a whole different kind of thing, and I think that was as much as anything the difference, the opportunities we created early."
East advances to Wednesday's IHSA Class 4A Bartlett Sectional semifinal against No. 2 seed Conant. The Saints are off to a good start in replicating the formula for their 2013 postseason success.
"It was like last year at state, different person every day that won a game for us," Latoria said. " … It was that same thing today. [The bottom of the order] just did their jobs, and it was great."
East and Elk Grove – now with a combined 59 wins – made for a high-powered matchup this early in the postseason.
"This whole sectional's just a bear," Grams said. "There are so many good teams in it. We were the 6 seed and we end up with 29 wins. That's a [heck] of a year for these kids, and the seventh and eighth seeds had beaten us."