BARTLETT – Winners of at least 30 games in back-to-back seasons and coming off last year's IHSA Class 4A second-place finish, the St. Charles East softball team has enjoyed plenty of triumphant days on the diamond.
Wednesday certainly wasn't one of them.
The Saints' postseason crashed to an unsightly conclusion as No. 2 seed Conant drilled No. 3 seed East, 13-0 in five innings, in a 4A Bartlett Sectional semifinal.
The Saints (30-7) unraveled in a way that few could have anticipated in what projected to be a relatively evenly matched game.
"That was ugly," East senior center fielder Tess Hupe said. "That's not how we wanted to come out here and play today. It's definitely not a strong finish, but we look at the whole season, and 30 wins, conference championship, we finally beat [St. Charles North]. We did accomplish things this year.
"For the seniors, we're happy still that we went to state [last year], but we wanted to do it again."
Conant advances to Saturday's sectional final against top-seeded Glenbard North.
The Cougars (26-5) held a modest, 1-0 lead with two outs in the bottom of the third when the game began unraveling for senior pitcher Haley Beno and the Saints.
With two Cougars aboard and two outs, Beno walked Telly Hunter to load the bases. Alissa Wachal then singled to center, scoring two. The next batter, towering left-handed hitting first baseman Hailey Rothstein, clubbed a three-run homer to right to make it a 6-0 game.
The outlook further deteriorated for East in the bottom of the fourth when Conant removed all doubt with a seven-run blitz. Beno was removed three batters into the inning in favor of sophomore Jordan Hall, who also was hit hard by the Cougars.
East coach Kelly Horan was sorry to see such a rocky final outing for Beno, who has been a key part of East's run of excellence.
"Great career by her," Horan said. "I hope that she has some perspective to know that this game doesn't define her career. It was a bad [game]. That's it."
Conant worked several favorable counts en route to teeing off on East pitching.
"We're eagerly disciplined is I guess the best way I can say it," said Conant coach CathyAnn Smith, whose team avenged a loss to the Saints in a regional final last year. "They're eager, they want to hit, but they've learned to be disciplined so that we can get the best pitches we can and do something with them."
East managed only two singles off Conant pitcher Sara Neuman. Left fielder Sarah Collalti reached on an infield single in the top of the first and Mackenzie Lofgren led off the third with a single. That duo is among six senior starters for the Saints, also including Beno, Hupe, first baseman Kate Peterburs and catcher Mackenzie Meadows.
"To be clear, I'm not disappointed with our effort, I'm not disappointed with our season," Horan said. "I'm disappointed that we played poorly today. And when you play poorly in a sectional game when you're playing a great team, you get slaughtered, and that's what happened."
East's lineup looked a little different than usual as shortstop Olivia Cheatham, battling a leg injury, was moved down to the No. 9 hole in the order. Horan said right fielder Katie Kolb (back stress fracture) also played despite discomfort.
"There's one thing I know about all our kids is we are warriors and we do tough it out," Horan said. "We just didn't do our job today."