Just how surprising is it that St. Charles East is making its first appearance in the state softball semifinals Friday in East Peoria?
Saints coach Kelly Horan recently sold her home, and she has the closing scheduled for Friday. It's not every year -- up until three days ago it had not been any year -- that the Saints have to plan to leave the first weekend in June open because they are still playing softball.
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But that's the kind of dream season it has been. Horan will gladly leave the home closing to her husband while she travels south down I-55 with her team for their 3 p.m. matchup against 35-1 Barrington.
"I knew my kids were capable of great things," Horan said. "I'll take these 13 kids wherever. And it's because they are winners. From the first day of tryouts where it's nice and loose and then it's serious face. These 13 kids are winners. I wouldn't trade one of them."
The Saints have been winning a lot this spring. After starting 3-3, they went on an 18-game winning streak until a loss at St. Charles North. The Saints have won 11 of 12 since then -- and they were one strike away from winning the one defeat in that stretch, again to the North Stars.
Now 29-2 in their last 31 games and 32-5 overall, the Saints are on a roll beating Conant, Bartlett, Glenbard North and Downers Grove South in their last four games.
"Nothing stops us and nothing will stop us," said freshman left fielder Katie Kolb who went 3-for-4 with 3 RBI in the supersectional win. "At practice we are very confident, hitting practice, we are just all very confident."
First baseman Kate Peterburs leads a potent St. Charles East lineup with a .514 batting average. She also has 4 home runs and cleanup hitter Alex Latoria has bashed 10 homers, but the Saints will once again enter Friday's game against a more powerful opponent.
Every hitter in Barrington's lineup has at least one home run. As a team the Fillies have slammed 54 home runs -- St. Charles East has 22.
The Saints, though, also watched Glenbard North hit two home runs and three doubles against them in the sectional final, yet rallied for five runs in the fifth inning for a 7-6 victory. They know how to win even if the other team might be hitting the ball harder.
"Our team has speed," center fielder Tess Hupe said. "We way not have a lot of power. We believe in each other. The positive attitude this team has is amazing. Our school has never done it (making the Final Four), and it's making our high school year."
With only three seniors, St. Charles East might have caught some by surprise who thought the team would be even more dangerous next year. Hupe said some early season wins over traditionally strong Upstate Eight Conference opponents gave them confidence for a postseason run like this.
"We were always working really hard in practice and coach was pushing us and we knew we had the hearts to do it," Hupe said. "Beating Bartlett and beating Lake Park and those teams we couldn't quite beat last year. That proved we have what it takes this year."
Shortstop Lexi Perez starts the Saints lineup with a .388 average, 39 runs and 32 stolen bases as the team's leadoff hitter. No. 2 hitter Hupe checks in at .360 with 33 runs, and Olivia Lorenzini is batting .403 with 32 runs and 35 RBI as the No. 3 hitter.
"I've got three seniors who are refusing to leave," Horan said.
The Saints count on production throughout their lineup. Kolb's 3-hit day Monday raised her average to .355 with 26 runs and 29 RBI. Second baseman Olivia Cheatham is hitting .333 with 24 runs and 21 RBI.
Horan said catcher Shelby Holtz and designated player Sarah Collalti take the two best at-bats on the team.
"Shelby, I can count on Shelby having a quality at-bat every time," Horan said of her No. 9 hitter. "What a fire starter. I love everybody in our lineup but if our No. 9 gets on and then we have the top of the lineup coming up, that sets up some nice things. Sarah and Shelby see a lot of pitches."
The Saints are going to have their hands full against Barrington sophomore Keenan Dolezal, who has a 28-1 record. The Saints counter with Haley Beno at 21-4.
"I think my kids thrive on great pitching. The better the pitching they rise to the occasion," said Horan who also said she will be glad to return to a dirt infield and grass outfield after her team uncharacteristically committed four errors Monday on the FieldTurf at The Ballpark in Rosemont.
"We're excited to get back on some natural surfaces," Horan said. "It (The Ballpark) was fun, it was exciting, it's a fantastic experience, it's first class. I'm glad my kids got to experience it, but we are ready to get back on natural surface to get our defense back in shape."
The Saints will face a program with plenty of state experience. Since the IHSA state tournament began in 1976, teams from the Mid-Suburban League have won 14 games in the state finals.
The majority of those belong to Barrington.
The Fillies have won eight, and would love to add two more this weekend making them the first IHSA girls team sport to win a state championship at Barrington High School.
The 2007 and 2008 Class 4A state runners-up will try to win one more than those back-to-back banner seasons.
"This is what we all wanted," said senior center fielder Tess Bolger, who has belted 7 of the Fillies' school-record 54 home runs this season. "This has been our goal all season."
Hall of Fame coach Perry Peterson's squad has broken 13 offensive school records, including runs scored with 360, shattering the former school standard of 279 set in 2012.
"Everyone hits, one through nine," Krzysko said. "If someone is not hitting in a particular game, there's always someone else there to pick them up."
On the defensive side, the youngest girl in the Fillies starting lineup, sophomore Keenan Dolezal, has pitched the Fillies to 28 of their 35 wins against just one loss (3-2 in 15 innings to visiting Marengo on April 20.
"It's not just one person," said the always-modest Dolezal, whose sister Kiley was the Fillies ace in 2010 and 2011. "Everyone is always motivated to win. No one brings us down."
Loren Krzysko has stepped up her senior year with a school-record 18 homers and 42 for her career, ranking her fifth on the IHSA all-time list.
The Arkansas recruit is one of seven seniors in the Fillies' starting lineup along with second baseman Krista Moore (. 352), right fielder Maggie O'Hara (. 400), left fielder Morgan Olszewski (. 352), designated player Sam Rosenfeld (. 356) and Bolger (. 417).
The starting lineup is completed by junior first baseman Katie Dehnert (. 371) and junior shortstop Erin Ward (. 346).
"Keenan did an amazing job," Krzysko said about the Fillies pitcher in Monday's 8-3 supersectional win over Warren. "We knew they had some amazing power and Keenan really buckled down."
-- John Leusch contributed to this story