Lilly Fecho's final year at Glenbard North was going to be her best, of that she was determined.
Four days a week last fall, Fecho was a solitary figure on the Panthers softball field. Some days she threw to her dad or her catcher. On others it was literally Fecho all by herself hitting balls off the tee. People passing by would ask Panthers coach Josh Sanew who the tall lefty was.
"That's my senior pitcher," Sanew replied. "It was an amazing thing to watch."
The long, perhaps lonely hours have paid off.
No. 1 Glenbard North is 24-1, tied with Naperville Central atop the DuPage Valley Conference heading into Wednesday's showdown in Carol Stream. A possible run to state starts in two weeks, Fecho leading the way.
Committed to Purdue, Fecho is 18-1 with a 0.95 ERA and 173 strikeouts with just 43 hits allowed in 118 innings. At the plate, she's hitting .438 with 7 homers and 27 RBI.
A .240 or so hitter as a junior, Fecho has made herself into the area's best two-way threat.
"She wanted to be good in all aspects of her game," Sanew said. "She's put this team on her back."
Sanew touts Fecho as perhaps the state's best pitcher, and she's certainly in the conversation. The development of her changeup has made Fecho into even more of an "I can get out of any jam with a strikeout" type of pitcher. Fecho has been part of four no-hitters, and she 1-hit West Chicago on Friday.
"Now that she has that pitch it makes her even more difficult to hit against," Sanew said. "It keeps hitters off balance."
An honors student at Glenbard North, Fecho plans to study engineering at Purdue. The work ethic and attitude, Sanew said, sets her apart.
"She's the first one when she's not in there to say she'll keep the book, the first one to chase down fouls balls, the first one to warm people up," Sanew said. "She's really something special."
Lancers' Fritsche catching fire:
Since a tough 3-6 start to the season, Lake Park finds itself coming together at the right time, with a 15-4 spurt over its last 19 games. Look no further than Shannon Fritsche as a big reason why. Like her team, Fritsche started slow. Hitless in her first 8 at-bats this spring, she was hitting just .205 through 10 games with an uncharacteristic 6 errors at third base.
Lancers coach Tom Mazzie dropped Fritsche from leadoff to No. 4 in the lineup to ease some of the pressure, and she's taken off since. Over Lake Park's last 10 games Fritsche is hitting .472 with 5 doubles, 2 homers, 11 RBI and 13 runs scored. In two games Saturday against two good Naperville Central pitchers, Fritsche had 5 hits.
Mazzie has encouraged Fritsche to stay aggressive at the plate, and she's found her groove.
It helps having hitters like Kelly O'Neill (.360 at leadoff), Tara Palandri (.414) and Stephanie Starr (.418) ahead of her in a solid top of the lineup.
"Hitting leadoff, she was putting herself in her spot where she felt she needed to take pitches because she's a leadoff hitter," Mazzie said, "which is not what I want. Now she's back to driving the ball. She's getting aggressive, and you can see it in her eyes. When she's aggressive she can hit with anyone."
At third base, Mazzie said Fritsche, has been "Willert-esque" of late, comparing her to former Lancers standout Carly Willert. Fritsche showed a sample of that ability Saturday, going all the way to the first-base side of home plate to pounce on a bunt attempt. She's made just 2 errors over the last 10 games.
Lions healing at right time:
Lisle coach Jen Pomatto is fighting off a case of bronchitis, but other than that her Lions are feeling good with the playoffs a week away.
The 20-3 Lions have won 10 straight games and at 10-3 in the Interstate Eight North are a game ahead of 9-4 Seneca, followed by Coal City (8-4) and Sandwich (7-5). Still remaining is a home-and-home with Sandwich, and a Thursday home game with Wilmington.
On the health front, Lisle last week welcomed back senior second baseman Shelby Kretman to the lineup. Kretman missed most of April with appendicitis. Kelly Urban, who herself missed all last spring with an ACL injury, filled in ably for Kretman but now moves back to the outfield.
"I felt awful for Shelby as a senior to have to go through that," Pomatto said. "She dove for a ball at one of the practices, which gave us a scare, but Shelby is that type of kid. I'm glad she's able to come back now. She never wavered, she never complained about it and that's one of the things I love about her."
Before the playoffs get rolling, Lisle will host its eight-team invite this weekend. The Lions open up 8:30 p.m. Friday night against Dakota, with the championship set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Benedictine University. Also in the field is 22-6 Immaculate Conception as well as defending Class 2A state champion Morrison, who beat Lisle in last year's 2A semifinals.
"We have always used this to set our lineup, to see where we need to be," Pomatto said. "It gives us an opportunity to tweak some things."
Wide-open WSC Gold:
With a week or so to go, it's still anyone's ballgame in the West Suburban Gold. Hinsdale South, Downers Grove South and Leyden sit at 5-2, with Willowbrook 5-3. The teams have taken turns beating up each other, Downers Grove South sweeping Leyden with Hinsdale South taking two from Downers Grove South.
Hinsdale South has got hot at the right time. Since April 12 the Hornets had gone 11-1, including both wins over Downers Grove South, until a loss Friday to Willowbrook.
Lauren Cairo is hitting .452 with 21 RBI for the 18-10 Hornets. Saprina Kuchta has 25 RBI, Brooke Dodson 20 and Dana Capocci 19 while Lindsey Schwarz is hitting .326.
"It's a great group of girls that have their eyes on the prize. They know what they have to do," Hornets coach Kelly Van Hout said. "It took time to click, but they have really grown as a team. I can't stress enough on how we depend on every single person in the lineup."