EAST PEORIA — It was a scene right out of the movies.
“I believe in you in Olivia, I believe in you!” a fan repeatedly chanted after St. Charles East senior Olivia Lorenzini fouled off pitch after pitch with a 3-2 count in the bottom of the seventh, with two outs and runners on second and third.
Lorenzini’s suspense-filled at-bat was taking place as the Saints trailed 2-1 against state power Barrington (35-1), whose only loss was in 15 innings to Marengo, 3-2.
It was a Barrington team that had hit the second most homers (54) in state history for a single season and had been to the state finals six previous times.
“I believe in you!” the fan chanted again as Lorenzini fouled off her sixth pitch after the count had gone to full.
Finally, Lorenzini made everyone believers in St. Charles East.
The right fielder belted the ball over the center fielder’s head, allowing Lexi Perez and Tess Hupe to race home and dramatically give St. Charles East a 3-2 decision, its biggest softball win in school history.
The Saints (33-5) will face Minooka (22-8) for the Class 4A state tile at the Eastside Centre today at 5:30 p.m.
Barrington (35-2) will meet York (23-15) for third place at 3 p.m.
The Saints were down 2-0 going into the bottom of the seventh and had only 3 hits off Fillies sophomore ace Keenan Dolezal (28-2).
But Sarah Collalti’s leadoff double to left sparked a 4-hit seventh inning to give the Saints their first berth in a softball state championship game.
“Before they went to bat, I told the kids ‘you guys are crazy, like literally nuts,’” fifth-year Saints coach Kelly Horan. “So I said we’re going to have a crazy finish to this game. Would you believe they made me look smart?”
Saints junior ace Haley Beno (22-4) was sure smart on the mound, holding the explosive Fillies’ offense to 2 runs and 5 hits (all singles).
“It was a perfect scenario for us with the wind blowing out but we just didn’t hit the ball squarely,” said Barrington coach Perry Peterson, who watched his team set 14 school offensive records this spring. “So give credit to their pitcher. She had a nice game plan and she earned the win.”
Barrington had a chance to win despite no extra base hits.
The Fillies used small ball to punch in the game’s first run in the top of the sixth.
Sam Rosenfeld led off with a bunt single and went to second and third on sacrifice bunts by Tess Bolger and Krista Moore.
Home run slugger Loren Krzysko (42 career homers) then drilled a single to left center to score pinch runner Kat Panos for a 1-0 lead.
Barrington got an insurance run in the seventh when catcher Raegan Fingerman led off with a single to right.
Her pinch runner Jenna Privatsky went to second on Maggie O’Hara’s sacrifice bunt, advanced to third on Erin Ward’s grounder and came home on a wild pitch for the 2-0 lead.
But the Saints, who have made it a habit of rallying from deficits in the state tourney, came up with their biggest comeback.
After Collalti’s double to lead off the bottom of the seventh, the next batter popped out to second baseman Moore.
Horan inserted pinch-hitter Mackenzie Lofgren, who came up with a huge single to center to put runners on the corner. Perez (singled home Callalti to make it 2-1.
Tess Hupe then grounded to third where Krzysko made the tag on the runner trying to advance for the second out.
Hope and Perez each moved up a base on a passed ball, setting the stage for Lorenzini’s game-winning double.
“In my first three at-bats, I was getting a lot of rise balls and I couldn’t hit it for the life of me,” Lorenzini said. “She had a good rise ball but I liked the speed of her pitches.”
After seeing 11 of those pitches, Lorenzini teed off on the 12th for the hit that will go down in St. Charles history.
“It was amazing,” Lorenzini said. “I’ve had only one other clutch hit like that to win a game and it was early in the season. This one coming in a state finals game is huge.
“Now I’ve got one game left in my high school career. I want to finish on a high note.”
The Saints sure hit a high note Friday and Beno was at a perfect pitch.
“My coaches just kept mixing it up and had me going all over the plate,” said Beno, who had 198 strikeouts coming into the game and added three more on Friday while Dolezal struck out eight. “We were just trying to keep them off guard.”
“She (Beno) did a heck of a job,” Horan said. “And I owe it to the kids on that big hit they got to score their first run. I didn’t have my outfielder in the right spot. But the kids had my back.”
The Saints never backed down.
“My team has been coming back from deficits the whole tournament,” Beno said. “I wasn’t worried when we fell behind because I knew they would start hitting for me.”
Sure enough, they got 4 of their 7 hits in the final inning.
“They earned the win with 4 hits in the last inning,” Peterson said. “They should be happy. Good for them. They deserve all the credit. They got a lot of hits when the pressure was on.
“We set a goal that we needed 5 runs to win each game all season and we are a team that averages 10 a game. We hit a lot of balls that went at them and some that were not hit as hard as we have been. We just didn’t bring it today.”
St. Charles East will bring a confident team into the championship matchup.
“I love these kids,” Horan said. “I will take these 13 kids any time. I’m not sure if this will hit me until I go to sleep (Friday night).
“Olivia was a little down early in the game (2 strikeouts). But I kept saying to her, ‘you’ve got this, you’ve got this. And she didn’t back down at the end. All these girls are like that. They just keep fighting.”
“This is so unbelievable,” Beno added. “When we won the supersectional, it was so surreal and didn’t feel like were going to state.”
Now everyone knows St. Charles is at state, and everyone believes.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.