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updated: 5/21/2013 9:28 AM

The best will be at Neuqua Valley

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  • Naperville Central's Megan Nerger doubles home a run against Neuqua Valley during girls softball action.

       Naperville Central's Megan Nerger doubles home a run against Neuqua Valley during girls softball action.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

It boasts the area's best team.

Its best pitcher.

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Its best lineup.

And that's not even including Waubonsie Valley, the hottest team in the group.

If there is a better sectional around, particularly at the top, than the one at Neuqua Valley, good luck finding it.

Andy Nussbaum of Naperville Central, coach of the best team in DuPage County this spring, knows the margin will be thin when you throw in the likes of Benet, Downers Grove North and ace Elaine Heflin, Waubonsie and even host school Neuqua and others.

"You can just roll the good teams off your tongue," Nussbaum said. "Whoever wins this thing is going to have to be good for 21 outs four straight games. If you have one bad inning, it will be all over."

Nussbaum's No. 1 seed Redhawks (31-3) won their first 29 games this spring and their first DVC title in 1989 but went just 3-3 after clinching conference.

"I kind of wonder if we relaxed and lost a little bit of our edge. That can be hard to recapture," Nussbaum said. "We need to get back to where we were April 1 through May 9. I would like to think we're one of the best teams, but the best doesn't always win. Especially in this sport."

Benet and Downers Grove North, both regional final upset victims last year, know this well.

Benet (20-8) was 16-2 on May 4, but injuries contributed to a 4-6 finish. The Redwings have sophomores Stephanie Abello and Emily York back now, though. Pitching and defense will be key with a lineup that can put up runs like no other.

"If we don't make mistakes to give other teams runs, and we are healthy, we can beat anybody," Benet coach Jerry Schilf said.

Downers Grove North (23-8), upset in regional finals the last two years, got an injury scare two weeks ago when Heflin was hit on the wrist by a line drive. Heflin has only pitched a few innings since then, but she is expected back this week, as is catcher Hannah Mrazek from a hairline fracture in her hand and second baseman Carolyn Nojiri from a groin pull.

No. 4 seed Waubonsie (23-5), meanwhile, has won nine straight games behind red-hot pitching from Shannon Hohman and seeks its first regional title since 1997.

"We want to make a statement this year," Hohman said.

Remus reaches win milestone:

Ralph Remus never intended to stick around this long.

Remus first volunteered to coach as an assistant at St. Francis in 1997, when his oldest daughter, Becky, was a freshman. A priest had been coaching the team before. In 1999 he took over as head coach.

Still going strong 14 springs later, his youngest daughter, Maggie, now the Spartans' pitcher, Remus hit a coaching milestone May 11. A win over Aurora Central was his 300th.

"I'm just taking it a year at a time," Remus said. "I never suspected I'd be here this long, but it's been a good deal and I've enjoyed it."

Remus laughed when recalling the "pressures" of his first year, with one daughter playing shortstop and the other pitching.

St. Francis won its first conference championship in 2002, three years later reached the supersectionals and have won conference titles the last five years. Remus' star the last four years, Brie Pasquale, set a home run record as a freshman at Loyola this spring.

"The kids have got better. Each team is deeper than they used to be," Remus said. "It's still the same kids, though. It's been fun."

A photo of the first conference champions, and another of the first of five straight champs, hang in the office at Remus' dental practice in St. Charles. Going from the dental chair to the dugout has been a seamless transition over the years.

"It's a perfect marriage," Remus said. "I can make my own hours. Nobody's looking at me funny when they see the softball stuff. Most of my patients are used to it by now."

Kelley leaving Waubonsie:

Aly Kelley's next game coaching Waubonsie Valley could be her last.

Kelley, a Waubonsie grad in her third year coaching the Warriors, revealed to her team last week that she will be stepping down at the end of the season.

Kelley in July is going to Seoul, South Korea, for a two-year assignment teaching physical education at an international, English-speaking middle school. Kelley heard about the opportunity at a February job fair at the University of Northern Iowa.

While coaching at Waubonsie, Kelley has taught math at Wilkins Junior High in Justice. The daily commute from Aurora and back is far from ideal, but this decision went beyond the circumstances at home.

"I always wanted to study and travel abroad, but I couldn't do it because of softball and college," Kelley said. "I need to do it now before I get tied down with family and kids. While this (Waubonsie) is an awesome position to have, and it's hard to step down and leave these girls, I need to make sure that I'm happy, too."

Future looking bright at Montini:

The present is good at Montini, but the future should be even better.

The Broncos (25-10) this year set a program win record and did it with a team full of freshmen and sophomores.

Two of those freshmen are two of the best in the area.

Catcher Alyssa Sclafani, hitting .427 with 47 runs batted in coming into Monday, cracked her 10th homer in a win over Lemont. Fellow freshman Bell Alexander, Montini's leadoff hitter, was leading the area in hitting as recently as two weeks ago. She's now checking in at .510 with 33 stolen bases and 49 runs scored.

Follow Josh on Twitter @jwelge96

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