It was known early in Wednesday's 9-7 Elmwood Park victory over St. Francis in a Class 3A Elmwood Park sectional semifinal that this wasn't going to be a game decided by one hit, one play or one inning with nothing else happening the rest of the softball game.
The Spartans' Alyssa Fernandez smashed the first of 5 home runs in the first inning to give her team the game's first lead.
Unfortunately for St. Francis (25-5), seeded third, the second-seeded hosts hit the fifth and final homer of the game, and it mattered the most.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Ariana Kelley hit a 2-run shot to give her team (19-10) a return trip to their home field Saturday to face Fenwick for the sectional title.
"I didn't expect five home runs. I thought it might be something like 5-4," said Spartans coach Ralph Remus. "You don't face easy teams in the sectionals, and this could have gone either way."
For a brief time Wednesday, St. Francis had complete control of the game. In its half of the third, the Spartans tagged the Tigers for three runs to take a 4-0 lead.
Emma Davis reached on a fielding error and Aly Germanos and Fernandez walked. RBI singles by Ali Dittrich and Maggie Remus scored Davis and Fernandez, while Germanos was safe on a throw to the plate that put Fiona Summers on base with a fielder's choice.
The home runs continued for Elmwood Park in the bottom half of the third. Becky Gruber hit her first of two to pull her team to 4-2. She struck again the following inning with another 2-run shot that helped her team reach a 7-4 advantage.
Elmwood Park's momentum would not last long. In the fifth Fernandez doubled to center and stole third. Dittrich's single to right scored Fernandez and that set the table for Summers, who connected on her own 2-run shot to tie the contest at 7-7.
If the Spartans have any second thoughts regarding the game, they would likely concern the top of the seventh inning.
Dittrich led off with an infield hit. Sommers singled and took second on the throw and Remus reached on a fielder's choice to load the bases. Then came three straight outs and no runs.
"That's where we lost it, I think. We needed to squeeze through a run. But it happens," Remus said.
Disappointment was the mood of the Spartans as they left the field for the final time this season. But they take with them a strong resume from the 2013 season.
"We had a great year. We won conference for the fifth consecutive time. We won the regional. It's always terrific to be in the sectionals, but it hurts to lose," Remus said.
Starting St. Francis pitcher Maggie Remus finished her junior season 23-1.