Tom Poulin knows a thing or two about the best softball teams in Illinois, and the St. Charles North coach knew he saw one in the opposite dugout Tuesday afternoon in the Class 4A Bartlett sectional semifinals.
Top-seed Glenbard North scored three runs in both the first and second innings and never stopped hitting in a 10-4 victory that sends the Panthers into Saturday's championship game against the winner of Wednesday's game between No. 2 Conant and No. 3 St. Charles East.
"They are clicking right now," Poulin said. "They remind me of that group of seniors we had in 2011 (that finished second in the state). They are just about business. I wish them luck. That lineup is difficult to deal with. We've seen a lot of teams and they are as good as any."
In particular, the Panthers' 3-4-5 hitters proved impossible for St. Charles North (23-8) to get out. Sarah Petzold went 4-for-4, Alex Caliva 3-for-4 and Heather Sperlazzo 4-for-4 -- a combined 11-for-12 with the only out a screamer right at North Stars second baseman Kaitlyn Waslawski.
Those three also combined for 4 doubles, a triple, 5 RBI and 6 runs scored against North Stars starter Sabrina Rabin.
"Our 3-4-5, they just came up and attacked, attacked, attacked," Panthers coach Josh Sanew said. "That was by far our best offensive performance. Rabin is no slouch on the mound. I thought our approach was good, we stayed off the high pitch. We did a good job of hitting to right field. We never took our foot off the gas."
All that offense was more than enough for Cece Dopart, who improved to 24-4. She stuck out 13 and walked one.
"It (the big lead) gives me a little wiggle room to make sure I hit all my spots," Dopart said. "It's a lot easier on my mind."
Glenbard North (28-5) took a 3-0 lead in the first. After Dopart struck out the final two batters to leave runners at first and second in the top half of the inning, the Panthers scored three runs with a two-out rally capped by a 2-run single to left from Sperlazzo and freshman Kayla Quanstrum's RBI single.
"I thought it was important to have a good start," Poulin said. "We had an opportunity to score some runs in the first or an opportunity to get out of the first 0-0 and it didn't happen. That's a tough spot to be in against a team that good."
An RBI single from Stephanie Campos and a 2-run double from Petzold were the big blows that made it a 6-0 game after two innings.
Rabin laced a double to key the North Stars' 2-run third, but the Panthers scored three more times in the fourth for a 9-2 lead. Sydney Bentz homered, Caliva doubled home a run and Sperlazzo drove in her third run with a single.
The Panthers finished with 15 hits.
"Nobody had hit Sabrina like that," Poulin said.
"We talked how we want to come out first and score," Sanew said. "We didn't want to play catch up."
The championship game is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday but likely will be moved to 2 or 3 p.m. because of Glenbard North's graduation Saturday morning. The Panthers will be in a rematch of last year's sectional title game if St. Charles East defeats Conant.
"It feels really good to get back where we were last year and have another chance at the sectional," Dopart said. "We're going to come out strong."
Rabin went 2-for-4 in her final game of a four-year varsity career before she takes the field next year for Northwestern. "I don't know if I have the words for Sabrina," Poulin said. "She's the epitome of what every coach would want. She's a leader in the tough times. She has been nothing but a joy to work with."
Senior Mickey Goetz, a three-year starter at shortstop, also had 2 hits.
"I'm proud we continued to fight," Poulin said. "We got better as the game went on defensively, on the base paths and offensively. They gave their best effort.
"It's been a great run. They (the seniors) have had three great regular seasons. I'm glad we had postseason success this year because they deserve it. We don't play an easy schedule. We present them with a lot of challenges and that creates opportunities for dissension and we didn't have any of that."