Speed and defense carried St. Charles East’s softball team into Monday’s supersectional at Rosemont against Downers Grove South, so the Saints see no reason to change up what works in their bid to make a first-ever state semifinal appearance.
“Defense wins championships,” St. Charles East senior shortstop Lexi Perez said. “Coach (Kelly Horan) has told us that the entire year.
“When we go out there and have good enough defense, we can beat any team out there.”
East (29-4) won a sectional without committing an error over the final 13 innings, and Perez, who will continue her career next year at Winona State, is a big reason why. Her strong arm and great range has helped keep opposing offenses from either getting on base or taking an extra base the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, the speed she has shown leading off with her ability to beat out bunts has made it possible for the Saints to keep pressure on opposing defenses.
“It’s either way with the call each time I put down a bunt,” Perez said. “We have a lot of speed and I think a lot of teams like all power. You can get it done anyway you can.
“We hustle every inning to make sure we can get it done. Because we don’t have that much power, we just have to find another way to get it done.”
Perez and No. 2 hitter Tess Hupe, who went 5-for-7 in the sectional, aren’t the only Saints with speed. It’s that way throughout the lineup, right down to No. 9 hitter Shelby Holtz. And it’s not just with bunts but in running the bases where they let their speed show. They scored a key run on a sacrifice fly and three runners scored on a double by Sarah Collalti in the sectional.
“When you put it in play yoo can utilize your speed and that’s what gets people nervous,” Horan said.
In addition to speed, the Saints have done it with smarts and a willingness to sacrifice for the team.
Horan pointed out No. 6 hitter Kate Peterburs came into the sectional batting .515, but was excited about the chance to put down a sacrifice bunt that led to a sacrifice fly and game-tying run in the sectional title game.
“That type of selflessness, that makes great things happen like we’re seeing (in postseason),” she said.
The Saints run up against a 29-6 Downers Grove South team not entirely unlike their own on Monday at 4:30 p.m.
Freshman left-handed pitcher Caroline Hedgcock (15-7) and her team found a way in the sectional title game to overcome one of the Chicago area’s top pitchers, Elaine Heflin.
They won two 3-2 games in the sectional, and won the regional crown by eliminating a Naperville Central team that had started the season 29-0 before losing four of its final seven.
“At the end of the day, when you come to the postseason, when you’re in the top eight teams in the state, it’s really who comes to play,” Horan said. “Scouting reports are thrown out the window. One hundred percent of it is who comes to play on a given day, and I’ll take my 13 kids anywhere.”
Horan said her team has faced enough good pitching to be able to compete with Hedgcock or anyone else.
“(Glenbard North’s Lindsey) Cherry definitely is (dominant); her reputation is right there,” Horan said of the pitcher the Saints beat to win the sectional. “Sabrina Rabin (St. Charles North) is no slouch. We saw (Waubonsie Valley’s Shannon) Homan early in the year and when she’s on, she’s really on.
“We saw great pitching. I think my kids thrive no matter how great the pitcher. I think the better the pitcher, my kids will rise to the occasion and the more fun it is.”
The winner of Monday’s supersectional advances to face the Barrington-Warren supersectional winner in Friday’s 3 p.m. Class 4A state semifinal at East Peoria’s Eastside Centre.