Benets Panko picks NU
Marissa Panko of Benet misses the catch allowing Sammy Marshall of Naperville North to safely dive into second during the sectional semifinals at Oswego East.
Mark Black | Staff Photographer
Marissa Panko always could pick it at shortstop like few other gloves her age.
In two years at Benet, she's developed a lethal lefty bat to boot.
Numerous colleges noticed, and the Benet junior made her decision this past week by committing to Northwestern.
"They're well-known for their academics and softball. Both combined, it was a perfect fit," said Panko, who chose the Wildcats over Notre Dame, Drake and Illinois-Chicago, among others. "It will challenge me to play at the next level. That's all I could ask for."
Panko enjoyed a solid freshman year, hitting .330. She became one of Benet's most clutch bats in the 2011 playoffs, delivering the eventual game-winning hit off Richards star Brianne LeBeau to send the school to its first state softball appearance.
She was only scratching the surface.
Last spring Panko hit an area-best .587 with 50 runs scored, 15 doubles and 35 runs batted in for a Benet lineup that scored nearly 10 runs a game. She again showed a knack for the big hit, delivering a walk-off single to beat Marist and a game-winner days later off Downers Grove North ace Elaine Heflin.
"Think about where she was two years ago," Benet coach Jerry Schilf said. "She was just learning to hit left-handed."
Indeed Panko hit right-handed up until freshman year. She switched to the Illinois Chill summer travel team and to a new hitting coach Mark Doran, who Panko credited with her development.
"I thought I would just be a slapper," Panko said. "He helped me find my power and ability to drive the ball. I feel more confident in the box now."
Panko is the fourth player at Benet to commit to a Division I program, joining Maeve McGuire (Georgia), Julianne Rurka (Providence) and Rowan McGuire (Georgia Southern). Rowan McGuire transferred from Downers Grove North this school year; Benet is appealing to the IHSA to make McGuire eligibile this spring.
Panko will join a Northwestern program that made back-to-back Women's College World Series semifinal appearances in 2006-07. Last spring the Wildcats advanced to the NCAA Austin Regional championship round.
"They're a national presence," Schilf said. "For her to be recruited there, that's pretty big."
Gagliano new Wheaton Academy coach:
Wheaton Academy didn't need to look far to find its new softball coach.
Paul Gagliano, whose daughter Marissa was an All-Area shortstop for the Warriors and a junior now, has been named Wheaton Academy's new coach. Gagliano has coached the U-10 and U-12 Wasco Diamonds travel softball teams the last four years. Last summer his U-12 Diamonds went 54-21-1 and won the USSSA Central Illinois State Championship. Gagliano is a senior vice president of retail accounts at CytoSport, Inc.
"I'm grateful for this opportunity," Gagliano said. "I look forward to building upon the foundation that is here and creating a positive, successful and respected program."
Last spring the Warriors went 10-19 and advanced to a regional final for the third time in four years.
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