If the stars align properly, the possibility exists for an all-Elgin Area School District U-46 Class 4A sectional softball championship game at St. Charles East on Saturday between Bartlett and South Elgin.
"That's the goal," says Storm coach Jason Schaal.
But before that can happen, Bartlett and South Elgin will need to beat formidable and higher-seeded opponents as the Hawks face the top-seeded host school in a 4:30 p.m. semifinal on Tuesday and then South Elgin takes on DuPage Valley Conference power and No. 2 seed Glenbard North on Wednesday at the same time. The championship game is at 11 a.m. Saturday.
And both Schaal and Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith agree the key to winning now is the same as always -- get good pitching, good defense and timely hitting.
Bartlett (25-9) vs. St. Charles East (27-4): The fifth-seeded Hawks, who went on a magical run to the state championship game last season, are hoping they can recapture that magic with a second-straight sectional title. They beat Lake Park for the second time in three games this season, 3-1, to win the Bartlett regional on Saturday.
"Lake Park was a tough test and from here on out there's nothing but good teams and good games," said Wolfsmith, who with a win over the Saints would record his 250th career win at Bartlett in this, his 10th year at the helm.
The Hawks lost to St. Charles East 4-1 in April 9 in an Upstate Eight Conference crossover game and while Wolfsmith acknowledges the value of playing a known conference opponent, he doesn't put a lot of stock in a game from April 9.
"Anytime you play someone you've played and someone from your own conference it's easier scouting-wise but there are variables that come into play that can make it a situation where you overthink," he said. "Both teams are markedly different at this point. Previous results can be thrown out the window."
The Saints, who finished second to St. Charles North in the UEC River but earned the top seed before they played the North Stars, have been led by the stellar pitching of freshman Haley Beno (18-3) and an offense built around speed and power. In its 4-1 regional title-game win over Conant, coach Kelly Horan's team rallied with 3 runs in the sixth inning, led by a double from Sarah Collalti that plated the go-ahead run.
The Saints are in a sectional for the first time since 2002 and their only sectional title came in 1994.
"They're a well-coached team and offensively they force your defense to make plays," Wolfsmith said of the Saints. "And they've got some girls with some power, with some good gap power. You have to play a clean game against them defensively and you have to find a way to put the ball in play against Haley. She's pitching really well. Offensively, we need to put some pressure on them and then it will come down to who makes a mistake and who takes advantage of it."
The Hawks, seeking the program's fourth sectional title, are hitting .353 as a team and can score runs in bunches with Wolfsmith's aggressive style of coaching. Senior leadoff hitter Rachel Odolski (. 468, 19 SBs), junior shortstop Kayla Haberstich (. 464, 9 HRs, 59 RBI), junior pitcher Holly Pagan (. 395, 2 HRs, 23 RBI) and junior Alex Morales (. 380, 2 HRs, 27 RBI) lead the potent Bartlett offense. Freshman call-up Alyssa Nowak adds a .349 average to a lineup in which every starter hits .297 or better.
In the circle, Pagan has been the workhorse, going 14-5 with a 2.06 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 125-plus innings. Senior Jessica Kirby is 7-3 with a 2.38 ERA.
South Elgin (19-14) vs. Glenbard North (25-4): The task will be a tall one for the seventh-seeded Storm, who are in a sectional for the third time and first since 2009 when they lost to Crystal Lake South in the sectional championship game at Harlem. Glenbard North is a perennial power, having won 16 regional titles. The Panthers, who lost to Bartlett 1-0 in last year's sectional final at Lake Park, are seeking their first sectional crown since 2005.
But the Storm are coming in on a high after knocking off No. 3 seed St. Charles North 2-1 in the regional final, scoring the winning run on a suicide squeeze play with Cassidy Westlund bunting home senior Victoria Watt, who had given the Storm a 1-0 lead by hitting a home run of SCN standout Sabrina Rabin as the first batter of the game.
"We played really good softball in the regional and if we continue to play excellent defense and get good pitching we're going to do OK," said Schaal, who leaves South Elgin after the season for a position at Grayslake Central. "The St. Charles North game was very well played on both parts but we'll need to execute even better than we did if we're going to win a sectional game against a very tough opponent in Glenbard North. Their entire infield has Division I scholarships. They know what they're doing. We'll have to keep them off balance and put some runs on the board."
The Panthers, who own a 4-1 win over Bartlett earlier in the season, gave up 10 runs but won the Schaumburg regional nonetheless, beating Wheaton North 7-4 and Schaumburg 8-6. In the title game, Sydney Benz's 2-run home run in the sixth inning snapped a 6-6 tie after Glenbard North had taken a 5-0 lead. Cece Dopat (7-0) came on in relief to get the win but expect usual starter Lindsey Cherry (17-4) to be back in the circle Wednesday.
The Storm's offense also has the potential to score in bunches. Led by junior catcher and James Madison recruit Alyssa Buddle (. 522, 8 HRs, 39 RBI), junior pitcher Paige Allen (. 341, 15 RBI), Westlund (. 333, 14 RBI), Watt (. 333, 13 RBI) and senior shortstop Kara Rodriguez (. 333, 4 HRs, 16 RBI), South Elgin has its own brand of speed and power.
In the circle, Allen is just 6-10 with a 3.35 ERA in 106-plus innings but her regional performance showed her potential.
"She's been pretty effective," Schaal said. "Her record doesn't reflect how well I think she's pitched this year. She's a competitor and she's going to step in that circle Wednesday and give it her best."
Advancement: The St. Charles East sectional winner will advance to Rosemont Stadium to play the Neuqua Valley sectional winner at 4:30 p.m. Monday, June 3. The Neuqua sectional features semifinals between Downers Grove South and Wheaton Warrenville South Tuesday and then Benet against Downers Grove North on Wednesday.