St. Charles East took two decidedly different paths to victory in the opening games of Friday's St. Charles East Softball Invitational.
The Saints began defense of their 2013 invitational championship by enjoying a scenic 9-1 win over Lyons Township in one of their best all-around performances of the season.
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East then experienced a much more harrowing drive in its second game of the day. The hosts relinquished six runs in a mistake-filled first inning and took the lead for good behind two St. Ignatius errors in the final inning, escaping rugged terrain with an 8-7 victory.
The pair of wins gave the Saints a share of first place with Hoffman Estates heading into Saturday's busy schedule, when each of the tournament's six teams plays three five-inning games. East faces Harlem (1-1) at 10 a.m. and Hoffman Estates (2-0) at 11:15 before concluding the tournament against Maine South at 12:30 p.m.
The Saints (15-4 overall) started quickly in the opener, jumping in front of last year's St. Charles East invitational runner-up 2-0 in the first inning on a two-run homer by cleanup hitter Kate Peterburs.
East provided pitcher Haley Beno with a 5-1 cushion in the third inning thanks to an opposite-field solo home run by Peterburs, an RBI single by freshman Jordan Hieber and an RBI grounder from freshman catcher Rylee Stout. The Saints expanded their advantage to 9-1 courtesy of four unearned runs in the fourth. The Lions committed three errors, and Hieber capped the spurt with an RBI single to center field that plated sophomore right fielder Katie Kolb.
Lyons tried to rally in the fifth and final inning, loading the bases with one out. But Kolb tracked down and caught a sinking line drive, then alertly threw the ball to Peterburs at first base to double up the Lions' Lindsey Arnston and close out the game.
The victory improved Beno's season record to 8-3. The senior right-hander scattered seven hits and credited East's defense, which did not make an error, with quieting Lyons' normally potent attack.
"I didn't think I pitched very well," Beno said. "The score doesn't really show how I pitched. Our defense helped me out a lot. Katie made a great catch and throw to first base to end the game. Our defense was great. It gives me a lot of confidence when I'm out on the mound. We also got a lot of good swings at the ball. Getting an early lead, there was not too much pressure on me pitching out there."
East's second game was just the opposite. Like in the opener, the Saints broke out to an early lead, scoring four runs in the top of the first, highlighted by a two-run single by Kolb that drove in shortstop Olivia Cheatham and Peterburs.
But East imploded in a rare out-of-sync performance for the 2013 Class 4A state runner-up. St. Ignatius (12-5) erupted for six runs on three hits thanks largely to three walks, three East errors and three wild pitches. Maura Lynch finished the scoring spree with an RBI single that brought home freshman Keleigh O'Neill.
"The girls were excited to play last year's state runner-up team. That positive start to the first inning gave us the energy we needed to stay with them," St. Ignatius coach Allison Heraty said.
Having a rare off-game after beginning the season 5-1, East pitcher Alex Latoria was replaced by Hieber near the end of the first inning. The freshman limited the Wolfpack to one run in the final three innings.
Meanwhile, East's offense picked up two runs in the second on an RBI single by Peterburs and a throwing error that allowed senior outfielder Tess Hupe to score from second base.
Trailing 7-6, the Saints grabbed the lead for good in the fourth courtesy of an assist from an unlikely source. Cheatham singled to lead off the inning, then Peterburs reached base on a grounder when St. Ignatius' first baseman lost a throw from shortstop Jen Fialkowski in the setting sun as it was shining in her face.
A wild pitch enabled Cheatham to score the tying run, and Molly McGovern, who pinch-ran for Peterburs, advanced to third base when a dropped throw at first base on a grounder by Kolb put runners on first and third. McGovern crossed home plate with the go-ahead run on a groundout by Hieber.
All eight of the Saints' runs were unearned, though "to their credit they put the ball in play with their bats," Heraty said. "They're a good hitting team. They kept the ball in play and kept it on the ground to make our defense make plays at the end of the game."
St. Ignatius nearly tied the game in the bottom of the fourth before the game was called due to diminishing sunlight. Katie Gallagher led off with a single, reached second on a groundout and then stole third with one out. But the senior got no farther as Hieber calmly induced Tess Russell and Fialkowski into back-to-back infield popouts to secure the victory.
"Jordan kept their hitters off-balance and was hitting her spots. She did a good job in a tough situation," East coach Kelly Horan said of Hieber, who improved to 2-0. "She's getting a lot of experience as a freshman. We also have a freshman starting at catcher, Rylee Stout. The two of them worked well together today. They're both doing well in their first year of varsity."
Horan said Beno will pitch for the Saints in their 10 a.m. Saturday game. Latoria will take the mound for the game with Hoffman Estates. Horan hasn't decided who will pitch the final game, though she said Beno won't throw two games on Saturday to protect her arm from overuse and keep her fresh for the remainder of the season, particularly the postseason. "It won't be Beno," Horan said. "We're keeping the big picture in mind."