St. Charles East picked up right where it left off last June.
And, in a way, so did Burlington Central.
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For the Saints that was a good thing.
St. Charles East, the 2013 Class 4A state runner-up, pounded out 16 hits and dominated the Rockets in a 14-4 win in five innings Monday afternoon in a nonconference softball game in St. Charles. It was the season opener for both teams, as well as their first action of any kind on a full field.
"They came prepared today," said St. Charles East coach Kelly Horan of her veteran team. "Offensively I was really pleased. It's a good start for sure. We have three new girls. The other 10 know what it takes and they came prepared."
Senior right-hander Haley Beno, who pitched the Saints into the state championship game last June, spotted the Rockets a first-inning run, an Emily Kisch single driving in Bekah Harnish who had singled and stole second, before the Saints' offense took off.
With senior leadoff hitter Tess Hupe setting the table, the Saints came back in the bottom of the first with 4 runs and never looked back. They also used 2 physical Rocket errors and one mental miscue to help the cause in the first. Hupe led off with a slap back to Brooke Gaylord in the circle but no Rocket covered first. Junior Olivia Cheatham then beat out a bunt single that BC committed a throwing error on and senior Sarah Collalti drew a walk to load the bases. Senior Kate Peterburs then hit a grounder to third that Hupe was able to score on just before junior Alex Latoria ripped an RBI single to left field to give the Saints a 2-1 lead. Collalti scored on a single to left by sophomore Katie Kolb and Latoria scored on an outfield error to make it a 4-1 game.
"Maybe being down 1-0 got us going," Horan said. "They realized it's a new game, a new year."
Cheatham launched a home run over the center-field fence in the second to make it 5-1 but the Rockets closed the gap to 5-3 in the third when Courtni Neubauer beat out a one-out infield single and scored on Gaylord's two-out double. Gaylord then scored on Kisch's blooper to center that got caught in the wind and fell in for a single.
But the Saints just kept hitting. They added 4 runs in the fourth as Cheatham doubled and came home on Collalti's single. With one out Latoria was hit by a pitch and Kolb beat out an infield single, paving the way for a 2-run single from senior Mackenzie Lofgren. Sophomore Kelly Rinker's infield groundout drove in Kolb with the final run of the inning.
After a Harnish double drove in Neubauer, who had singled, in the top of the fifth, the Saints ended it in the bottom half. Hupe led off with a triple and scored on an error. Collalti, Peterburs and Kolb added RBI singles in the inning.
"They're an excellent ballclub, we knew that coming in," said BC coach Wade Maisto, whose team lost only four games last season but two of them in the final four games of the season, including in a regional championship game to Marengo. "Our first inning was horrible but they had their share of hits in the game, too. They were better prepared in all phases of the game. They made the plays and there's no weak out in their lineup.
"Our focus is in May and not March and April but we certainly need to do things better than we did today. We just wanted to get a good softball game in so the outcome wasn't important to me today but the score isn't something we're used to.
The Rockets did have 8 hits off Beno (3 Ks, 1 BB), 2 each from Neubauer, Harnish and Kisch, but the Rockets' 5-9 hitters went 1-for-9 for the day.
"I didn't mind the way we swung the bats," Maisto said. "But some of the things we did defensively were disturbing to me."
Meanwhile, the Saints came away knowing it's the first game of a season that will be filled with a Bull's-eye on their collective backs.
"It's a new year and we know everyone is after us but we're ready for that fight," said Hupe. "Last year was great and it was fun but what would be more fun is to do it again this year. Our biggest goal is to get the new girls into the team vibe because playing as a team is our biggest thing. We're not even talking about last year. It's a new year and we know we have a target on us."
And that's just fine with Horan.
"We know every time we come to the ballpark we're going to get everyone's best shot," she said. "That will prepare us for the postseason so we're OK with that."