Steve Salisbury is putting his turkey hunt on hold for a week this year.
And that's no small thing for a someone in Rice Lake, Wis. to do.
But it's a bit of a homecoming for Salisbury Saturday when the Rice Lake Warriors come to Elgin to play in the 19th annual Larkin Slugfest softball tournament at the Elgin Sports Complex.
Salisbury was one of the most successful softball coaches in Elgin High history. With Jenny Parks and Elizabeth Waller mowing down hitters left and right, Salisbury coached the Maroons to three straight Upstate Eight titles from 1991-93 and second in the conference in 1994 and 1995. His 1995 team was his last and that Elgin bunch won the program's last regional championship prior to current coach Chad Dahlman's team winning a postseason plaque in 2010.
Salisbury headed north after the 1994-95 school year and has been the Athletic Director at Rice Lake ever since. A "quick" 5½ hours up I-90/94 from Elgin, Rice Lake is a tranquil Wisconsin fishing and hunting community. The high school has an enrollment of 700 and is in Division AA of Wisconsin high school sports, which has four divisions like Illinois. Rice Lake is the smallest school in its conference, a league that has schools of up to 2,000 in enrollment. Rice Lake has also been home for about the last 12 years to former Elgin Academy boys basketball coach Kevin Orr, who coached the Warriors to the school's best ever season (23-2) last year. Orr's daughter, Jenna, is the softball team's shortstop.
The Warriors have had their share of success since Salisbury arrived. The football program, for example, was running through 1-8 and 0-9 seasons when Salisbury hired one of Illinois' kings of the wishbone, former Belvidere coach Verne Pottinger. A few short years later Rice Lake won a state championship. The school has also won a state title in softball and been to state four times. This year's team is off to a 5-0 start (remember nothing gets played in Wisconsin very early in the spring, even this year).
"We've got one of the better programs in the area," said Salisbury, who plans to make the trip to Elgin this weekend, if for nothing else a chance to dine at Beef Villa. "We're the smallest school in our conference but we compete with them and we've even won some titles."
Landing Rice Lake in Larkin's Slugfest just kind of happened. Salisbury, who used to take his Elgin teams on southern Illinois trips during spring break, said usually his team will head to Apple Valley, Minn. to play in a tournament. But Rice Lake's prom date and a change in the Apple Valley date made that impossible this year. So, during a trip to Purdue to visit his daughter, Salisbury stopped off in South Elgin to take a tour of the newest U-46 school he'd never been to. One thing led to another and he ended up finding out on the IHSA website that Larkin was looking for a team. A couple of phone calls later, Rice Lake was in.
But Salisbury originally had last weekend as the date for Slugfest, which wouldn't have interfered with the short window called turkey season. Now he's rearranging one of the most hallowed events to a Rice Laker, and if you have a chance to meet Steve at the tournament on Saturday you'll see why we're fortunate he is. He said he'd love to see some old players and parents, fans, etc., stop out to say hi and we just hope Mother Nature keeps the nasty stuff in Rice Lake Saturday so he can enjoy his visit "home".
Slugfest outlook: The heavy local flavor remains in Slugfest this year with Elgin, South Elgin and St. Edward joining the host Royals in the field. But the top two seeds are out of the immediate area. Class 3A Chatham-Glenwood (14-1) comes in as the No. 1 seed and will play No. 8 St. Edward (6-13) in the first round at 10 a.m. No. 2 Plainfield Central (16-5) gets No. 7 Larkin (3-19), No. 3 Elgin (13-9) plays No. 6 Oak Lawn (6-13) and No. 4 South Elgin (8-15) takes on Rice Lake. The second round is at noon and the final round at 2 p.m. in the bracket-style tournament.
"I don't know how we'll compare down there but up here we're pretty good," said Rice Lake coach Gary Haus, who starts three seniors, three juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen. "I'm just looking to play good teams and good competition so it makes us better."
Chatham-Glenwood, as it is every year, looks to be the team to beat for sure. The defending Slugfest champs, who beat South Elgin 4-3 in the title game last year, have only a 5-1 setback to Normal Community on the loss side of the ledger this season. The Titans are led by junior infielder Brianna Edgar, the coach's daughter, who is hitting. 574 with 18 RBI. Junior catcher Brooke Reimenschneider hits .500 with 6 homers and 36 RBI. As a team the Titans are hitting .427 with 15 home runs and 57 stolen bases. In the circle, junior Madison Bandy is 13-0 with a 0.61 ERA but is more a finesse and defense pitcher than a strikeout thrower as she only has 56 Ks in 69 innings.
Plainfield Central relies on junior pitcher/infielder Kaleigh Nagle, who is 10-3 in the circle and hitting .400. Senior catcher Calley Baker hits .440 for the Wildcats and senior center fielder/pitcher Morgan Vogt is hitting .469 and is 3-1 in the circle.
Oak Lawn will take on Elgin and senior standout Hannah Perryman in the first round. Perryman has struck out 239 batters already this season. Oak Lawn, which plays in the South Suburban Red, is led by sophomore third baseman Mercedes Leon (. 405, 15 RBI) and junior second baseman Rachel Burba (. 364, 11 RBI).
Game changes: The second Elgin-Larkin game will be played on May 10 at 7 p.m. at Judson University. It will be Elgin's senior night. South Elgin will do the same for its senior night on May 15 against Metea Valley, with a 6:30 p.m. start.
Pink Out at Jacobs: When Jacobs hosts Huntley in a 4 p.m. game on May 7, the Golden Eagles and Red Raiders will participate in a Pink Out day, with all proceeds going to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. T-shirts will be sold for $10 and, weather permitting, hot dogs, popcorn and drinks will be sold. Jacobs will wear hot pink T-shirts for the game and Huntley will wear light pink.
NCCAA regional at Judson: Judson University's softball team will host an NCCAA regional against North Central of Minnesota today. The teams will play a doubleheader at 5 p.m. in a best-of-three series. If they split, they'll play a deciding game Saturday at a time to be determined. The winner of the series advances to the NCCAA World Series at Bluefield College in Virginia May 10-12. Judson (24-23) also has the CCAC tournament next weekend. North Central is 13-11 this season.