St. Charles East's softball team didn't begin postseason play the way it had planned.
Sophomore cleanup hitter Cassidy Westlund belted a 3-run home run to straightaway center in the top of the first inning to give 14th-seeded South Elgin (18-14) a 3-0 lead over the third-seeded host Saints in the Class 4A regional semifinals.
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"My first thought was, 'OK, here we go,'" said Saints coach Kelly Horan. "Nobody lays down in the playoffs."
Perhaps the best thing the Saints (29-6) had going was the fact that they hadn't stepped into the batter's box.
The defending state runner-up finishers recovered quickly, putting a 6-spot on the board in the bottom of the first inning en route to a 12-4 triumph over the Storm in a rain-shortened game called with 2 outs and nobody on base in the top of the sixth.
"That wasn't exactly how you wanted to start but we have some good ballplayers that can get on base and push them around," said Horan.
The Saints unleashed their power on the Storm in the first inning as junior Olivia Cheatham smacked a 2-run home run to cut the deficit to 3-2 before classmate Alex Latoria delivered a 3-run opposite-field home run a couple batters later to put the home team on top to stay.
"I was looking for an outside pitch," said Latoria, who stroked a 2-1 offering from South Elgin freshman Karli Dobler over the fence in right-center. "I was not thinking home run. I was just trying to drive in a run."
Known as a pull hitter, Latoria did her best to go with the pitch.
"The key is to keep my head down," she said. "I was pretty surprised that the ball went over the fence."
While Cheatham and Latoria played long ball, Horan was quick to credit senior leadoff hitter Tess Hupe (4-for-4, 2 RBI, stolen base) for her role.
"It started with Tess up at the top," said the coach. "She had a big day today. I think that gives your team a lot of confidence."
Horan wasn't overly concerned with her team's early deficit.
"We've been in tough situations before," she said. "With the experience that we have, there's no reason to be nervous. I think that's what helped us today."
Sophomore Katie Kolb (3-for-4) and freshman Rylee Stout (2-for-4) each added RBI doubles during the Saints' 3-run second, while freshman Jordan Hieber (2-for-3) had an RBI single and Hupe slapped a 2-run single down the third-base line in their 3-run fourth.
"It was a total team effort," Horan said of her team's 16-hit attack.
Latoria reached base in all 4 of her plate appearances, adding a leadoff double off the base of the center field fence in the fourth.
"It was nice to see her really dialed in here today," Horan said of Latoria. "It was really important for her and it was really important for our team."
Westlund (2-for-2, walk) drove in all 4 of South Elgin's runs, while leadoff hitter Rachel Ziemba went 3-for-3.
"The girls were very positive in the dugout even when they were down eight runs with two out in the top of the sixth," said Storm coach Stephanie Katzenberger.
Senior Haley Beno, who walked 2 and struck out 9, picked up the win for the Saints, who will face either Elk Grove or Elgin in Saturday's regional championship.
"It's always a good performance when it's a win," said Horan. "Beno got tough when she needed to."
The Saints' offensive attack impressed Katzenberger.
"They are tremendous hitters," said the Storm coach. "The bat speed you see in these girls is incredible. I thought Dobler did all right. The first thing she said to me was, 'Katz, I didn't put anything down the middle -- they were just smashing it.'"