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updated: 4/30/2012 8:34 PM

Kappelman, Tobin: Late bloomers in a leadoff groove

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Nicole Kappelman and Stephanie Tobin probably aren't the first names on opposing scouting reports.

Unlike more heralded teammates, neither are committed to Division I schools. They have enjoyed fair high school careers, not always near the top of their respective lineups.

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Both sure have blossomed as seniors.

Kappelman, Naperville Central's senior leadoff hitter, and Tobin, Naperville North's leadoff turned No. 2 hitter, are speedy table-setters who have come into their own this spring to spark two improved lineups.

Kappelman hit ninth as a freshman, then second for a spell before settling in at the leadoff position. The little lefty is hitting .530 on the season with 26 runs scored. Over the 16-4 Redhawks' last eight games, her numbers have been downright ridiculous -- a .708 batting average and .767 on-base percentage.

"It's become disappointing when she doesn't get on base," Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. "Clearly this has been her best offensive year."

Nussbaum said Kappelman hasn't changed her style of hitting much, but has grown a little more diverse. Speed and slapping is still her game, but she isn't afraid to swing away.

"Maybe she has better hand-eye coordination," Nussbaum said. "She is not missing the ball."

Naperville North needed to replace a dynamic leadoff hitter/shortstop this year, with Sammy Marshall graduated.

The 12-7 Huskies have more than made do with Tobin and freshman Alexis Solak. Strong-armed freshman shorstop Solak started the year batting behind Tobin, but recently Huskies coach Jerry Kedziora switched the two, moving Solak into the leadoff spot.

Solak is hitting .357 with 25 runs scored and 12 RBI while Tobin is at a staggering .550 with 18 runs scored and 17 stolen bases.

"I couldn't feel luckier with how those girls are producing," Kedziora said. "Steph is getting on base all the time."

Tobin was a good, but not great player for Kedziora for two years after transferring from Hinsdale Central. Now she's become a kid who colleges might want to take a second look at. Kedziora even said her speed is nearly on par with Marshall.

"What she's doing now, we totally haven't seen," Kedziora said. "She's worked really hard the last two summers and started buying into what we wanted her to do with the bunting and the slapping and her speed has got even faster than before. She's totally turned into a big-time threat. She should be considered one of the better players in the county."

St. Francis still going strong:

Graduating six starters off a 27-win team, it made sense to assume St. Francis would be in rebuilding mode this spring.

The Spartans sure have squashed that thought.

St. Francis is 19-2 heading into this week's action, two games better than its pace through 21 games last year.

"I knew we had some good kids to replace the ones we lost. I guess they are better than even I thought they'd be," Spartans coach Ralph Remus said. "I certainly didn't expect us to be quite this strong."

A seasoned infield helps, and St. Francis has a good one. Loyola recruit Brie Pasquale, hitting .528 with 22 runs scored and 16 RBI, has been one of the area's best hitters for four years at third base; Blaine Carragher, hitting .439, is a solid, experienced catcher and Aly Germanos, hitting .484 with 23 runs scored, brings outstanding range to second base. Added to that mix is slick-fielding junior shortstop Alyssa Fernandez, who did not play last year and is also hitting .410.

"Anybody starting off with Brie and Blaine is in good shape," Remus said. "Fernandez has really stepped up at shortstop for us and played well."

Sprinkled in with that older group, freshman right fielder Carly Pasquale has swung a hot lefty bat, hitting .511, and sophomore Maggie Remus has gone 12-1 with a 1.35 ERA.

The Spartans will get a couple stern tests this week.

First off St. Francis plays at 19-5 Suburban Christian Conference Gold leader Immaculate Conception today. Then the Spartans turn around Wednesday and host SCC Blue rival Montini. St. Francis is a half-game up on Montini in the Blue, but lost to the Broncos 7-6 on a walk-off homer in Lombard a little over two weeks ago.

"It's a big week," said Remus, not forgetting about a later matchup with Rosary. "We'll have our hands full."

Bison swinging big bats:

The way Fenton's Kelly Welch and Kelly Kielbasa were hitting this weekend, they probably would have signed up to play a doubleheader Sunday.

On Saturday against Wheaton Academy Welch had 10 runs batted in, including two 3-run homers in the fourth inning, in a 23-7 Bison win. Not to be outdone, Kielbasa had hits in nine consecutive at-bats between a Friday doubleheader with Amundsen and Saturday's game -- including 2 doubles and 2 homers, one of them a grand slam. On Friday Fenton raised $5,000 for its Coaches versus Cancer event.

Fenton has rebounded quite nicely from a brutal early schedule. The Bison have won eight straight and 11 of 13 since returning from a a tournament in Tennessee to up its record to 12-8. Since the Tennessee trip Welch is hitting .594 with 4 doubles, 5 triples and 2 homers and has 29 RBI in only 15 games. The senior catcher is also throwing out 50 percent of would-be basestealers.

"She is a natural hitter and has been like that all four years," Fenton coach Dave Mello said. "This year she is locked in, that's for sure."

Mello noted that Kielbasa, a junior, is a true power threat who has worked hard to cut down on her strikeouts. Setting the table for those two, No. 2 hitter Taylor Pugliese is hitting .455 and is Fenton's leading sacrifice bunter. Since the Tennessee trip, Fenton's team batting average has shot up from .225 to .349.

The schedule picks up considerably this week.

Fenton has a conference home-and-home with Glenbard South, then should play Marengo and Elk Grove in tournament action over the weekend. Always with an eye toward the playoffs, Mello wouldn't have it any other way.

"Playing these teams, we will have seen anything possible," Mello said. "We will be prepared."

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