Postseason mojo. Bartlett softball coach Jim Wolfsmith knows all about it, and he says St. Charles East has it.
"They've got the same kind of mojo we had last year at this time," said Wolfsmith, who guided his team to an appearance in the Class 4A state championship game last season.
It would be hard to argue with Wolfsmith after St. Charles East took down Bartlett 11-2 Tuesday in the first semifinal of the Saints' Class 4A sectional. SCE made it look easy by playing solid defense, getting time and productive hitting, and another strong pitching performance from junior Haley Beno.
The No. 1 seed Saints (28-4) will seek their first sectional title since 1994 and just the second in program history at 11 a.m. Saturday when they take on the winner of today's game between No. 2 Glenbard North and No. 7 South Elgin.
Tuesday's win came with a little bit of everything from the St. Charles East offense off Bartlett junior Holly Pagan (14-6). The Saints used bloop hits, slap hits, clean hits and the home run to hand the Hawks (25-10) their worst loss of the season.
"The players' job today was to figure out what (Pagan) was throwing early on and figure out the strike and then take it from there," said Saints' coach Kelly Horan. "They did a really nice job."
Bartlett actually scored first, plating a run in the top of the first inning when Kayla Haberstich reached on a two-out error, moved up on Alex Morales' infield single and then scored on Pagan's blooper over third base.
But the Saints came back with 4 runs in the bottom of the inning and never looked back from there. Lexi Perez led off with a single, Tess Hupe bunted her to second and was safe on an error, Lorinzini walked and Perez scored to tie the game on Alex Latoria's infield grounder. A sacrifice fly from Katie Kolb plated Hupe to give SCE the lead for good, and the Saints made it 4-1 when Kate Peterburs lined a 2-run shot over the fence in right field, her fourth home run of the season.
"It was really big for me and for the team," Peterburs said. "I made an error at first base and you can't bring mistakes to the plate but I made up for it. I saw that I needed to help the team out and be aggressive."
The Saints made it a 5-1 game in the third, Latoria driving in Hupe, who had singled and was sacrificed to second by Lorinzini. After Bartlett got a home run from Alyssa Nowak in the top of the fourth to make it 5-2, SCE waited until the bottom of the sixth to unleash the big inning and put the game away.
Peterburs (2-for-3) led the inning off with a single and by the time the inning was over, SCE had batted around and scored 6 runs. Hupe (2-for-3) had an RBI single, Lorinzini a bases-loaded double that cleared the bases and then Latoria (2-for-3, 4 RBI) a 2-run blast to left-center, her 10th homer of the season, to finish off the inning and Bartlett.
"We really wanted this win," Latoria said. "We all took good approaches at the plate. We were looking for pitches to drive and Beno pitched a wonderful game. That takes the pressure off us."
Beno continued her amazing season by using her drop curve to keep Bartlett's hitters off balance all day. She allowed only 4 hits and while she struck out only two, she didn't walk a batter. Her mix of pitches created 8 groundball outs and 11 pop ups or fly balls. And she was the first to agree that pitching with a big lead makes her job less stressful.
"It's so much easier," Beno said. "I know my team will give me runs plus insurance runs. I'm just so proud of everybody."
After the first inning, Beno allowed just 2 hits, a single to Katie Fornoff in the third and Nowak's homer in the fourth. Beno retired the final 10 Hawk batters in a row, using a fine diving catch from Kolb in left field to keep Bartlett leadoff hitter Rachel Odolski off base with one out in the fifth.
"The defense crumbled a little in the first but (Beno) just got tougher," said Horan. "That was the key, and that shows her growth."
The Saints also shook off any jitters they might have had playing in their first sectional game.
"From day one these kids have been loose but when it comes time for practice and games, they're dead serious," Horan said. "They've made me a better coach. They're super smart and they're gamers. This is fun."
For Bartlett, it was a tough way to end a postseason in which the Hawks were hoping to capture the same magic they did last year on the way to East Peoria.
"That first inning, we get one and they get four. That's asking for trouble," said Wolfsmith. "We were chasing all game and then the (sixth) inning they just overwhelmed us. They put the ball in play and they put pressure on you. The strike zone was a little tight and when you have to come inside against a team like that they can give you trouble. And Haley is pitching real well. They're young but sometimes when you're young you don't show the nerves."