The most talked about number prior to Wednesday's Class 4A St. Charles East sectional softball game between Glenbard North and South Elgin was 10.
No, it wasn't the prediction on how many strikeouts Glenbard North senior Lindsey Cherry would have, although one who guessed that number would end up correct.
It was more about the 10 runs the Panthers allowed in their two regional games -- 4 to Wheaton North and 6 to Schaumburg in Saturday's championship game.
Well, Cherry made sure that wasn't going to happen.
And Sydney Benz did it again.
What it all added up to was a 6-1 Glenbard North win and a second straight trip to the sectional finals for the Panthers, who fell 1-0 to Bartlett at Lake Park last year.
Second-seeded Glenbard North (26-4) will play host and top seed St. Charles East (28-4) on Saturday at 11 a.m. for the sectional title with the winner advancing to The Ballpark in Rosemont to play against Downers Grove -- either North or South in the Elite Eight. The Downers schools square off for the Neuqua Valley sectional title Saturday. Glenbard North is seeking its first sectional title since 2005.
The game was the last at South Elgin for head coach Jason Schaal, the only head softball coach the eight-year old school has known. He is taking a department chair position and will be an assistant football coach and possibly coach in the softball program at Grayslake Central.
After a rough outing she couldn't finish against Schaumburg Saturday, Cherry came back Wednesday and was as good as ever. She threw a 1-hitter with 10 strikeouts and 2 walks and a used a defense that played a flawless game behind her.
"I felt pretty good today," said Cherry, who allowed the Storm just 4 baserunners. "I just came out with a better mindset. Mentally I was a lot stronger."
And as soon as Benz did her thing for the second game in a row, all was good for the Panthers.
Glenbard North grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth when Louisville recruit Benz singled, went to second on Ashley Stiver's sacrifice bunt and then scored on a laced double to deep left-center field by Heather Sperlazzo.
With Cherry, who will pitch at Lafayette next year, next to untouchable, the Panthers put the game away in the bottom of the fifth with one big swing of Benz's bat. With one out, No. 9 hitter Amanda Manton singled. Stephanie Campos and Alex Caliva drew walks to load the bases and Benz, who hit a 2-run home run to win the game against Schaumburg Saturday, cranked a grand slam down the left-field line to give her team a 5-1 lead. For good measure, Stiver followed with a solo shot to make it 6-1.
"Hits are my goal," said Benz, whose homer was her fifth of the season. "If I can hit home runs that's great but I just want to get RBIs and help my team. She came inside and you just can't let that go. I just feel like I was in the perfect situation both times."
"We've been getting some people on base for her," said Panthers' coach Josh Sanew of Benz. "She's been getting good counts to hit and she got her pitch."
South Elgin's only hit of the day came in the top of the fifth and gave the Storm (19-15) some life at the time. Brittany Koss took a 2-1 Cherry pitch over the fence in left-center to tie the game 1-1.
"Home runs are going to happen," Cherry said. "You just have to hang tough and go get 'em. My team played great today. I couldn't have done it without them."
South Elgin, the No. 7 seed, never had two runners in an inning and didn't get anyone past first base, sans Koss' homer.
"I thought (Cherry) worked ahead in the count and hit her spots today," said Sanew. "I thought she got stronger as the game went on today. She kept a good hitting team off balance, Senior pitcher, senior leader. She put us on her back today."
Junior Paige Allen (6-11) suffered the loss for the Storm. She pitched well through four innings but fell victim to a bit of wildness in the fifth. Sophomore Rachel Ziemba came on after Stiver's home run and retired the 5 batters she faced in order.
"I thought Paige came out and did a great job," said Schaal. "She's always ready to go and she's a competitor. I kept thinking the longer we keep this game close the more the advantage switches to us but they're (26-4) for a reason. The bats are all over the place. To break it down, it was two pitches."
"We came together at the end," said Storm senior shortstop Kara Rodriguez. "We gave it our all and that's all you can ask for."
Schaal leaves South Elgin proud of what the program has accomplished since its inception seven varsity seasons ago. As its only coach, he led the Storm to five regional championship game appearances in seven years, three regional titles and a sectional final berth in 2009. South Elgin was 137-117 under him. He also believes there are good things ahead for what he's leaving behind. South Elgin graduates just three seniors -- Rodriguez, Victoria Watt and Shannon Schooler.
"I'm going to miss them," Schaal said. "They bring a lot back and whoever takes over the program, I wish them nothing but the best. Coaches' successes are based on the attitude of their players and the players who have come through this program over the years have had great attitudes."