Trailing 17th-seeded Hoffman Estates 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, time was beginning to run down for St. Charles East's softball team Tuesday afternoon.
However, the top-seeded Saints (28-5) weren't quite finished yet.
St. Charles East rallied for 7 fifth-inning runs on the way to a 9-2 triumph over Hoffman Estates (4-23) in the Class 4A regional semifinals at Glenbard West.
Capitalizing on 3 walks, a fielding miscue and freshman Tracy Osimowicz's RBI single, Hoffman Estates stunned the Saints with a 2-run first inning off of junior right-hander Haley Beno.
"It's different to have expectations and maybe that's what the first inning was -- the pressure of the expectations," said Saints coach Kelly Horan, whose team earned its first postseason victory since beating Conant 5-0 in the opening round of the 2009 regional tournament.
Horan chalked the early struggles to a case of nerves.
"That's exactly what it was," said Horan, whose team will shoot for its first regional title since 2002 against either Conant or Glenbard West Saturday morning in Glen Ellyn. "That's what tight feels like."
The Saints cut the deficit in half in the third, as Tess Hupe reached on a 2-out single before senior Olivia Lorenzini laced a 1-2 change-up to right-center for an RBI double.
In the fifth, the Saints seized control.
Lexi Perez led off and hit a chopper to the mound that was bobbled and thrown over the head of the Hawks' first baseman. The ball was ruled out of play, allowing Perez to go all the way to third.
On the very next pitch, Hupe reached on an infield single and Perez scored to tie the game at 2-2.
After a catcher's interference call and wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, Alex Latoria hit a grounder to Hawks third baseman Jordyn Fera, who tried to throw home but was unable to beat a sliding Hupe as the Saints took their first lead of the game.
Freshman Katie Kolb then beat out a bunt single that drove in Lorenzini to make it 4-2.
"When we did the safety squeeze, I thought that was really deflating for the other team," said Horan. "Speed is great. You can't teach speed. I'm very fortunate to have the quality players that I have."
Run-producing singles from Kate Peterburs and Sarah Collalti, and a dropped fly ball allowed the Saints' seventh run to score in the fifth.
"Unfortunately that's been a bit of our season," Hawks coach Lindsey Hamma said of her team's 4 fifth-inning errors. "The big inning has really gotten us.
"We came out and scored those two runs but we knew we couldn't rest on it," added Hamma. "They're (the Saints) the No. 1 seed for a reason. They kept battling away."
Beno settled down, retiring 19 of the final 21 batters she faced, while picking up the win.
Peterburs, who played through a painful foot injury suffered last Friday against Larkin, went 3-for-4 with an RBI and added a spectacular diving catch of a bunt pop-up off the bat of Heather Doonan with a runner on second and 1 out in the fourth.
"I made the decision (to play) today," said Peterburs, who left the dugout wearing a protective boot on her right foot. "My foot is just sore and there's a difference between being sore and hurt. It did bother me but after a while I kind of went numb to it."
"What a gritty performance," Horan said of her junior first baseman. "She taught me a lot about what she's all about today."