Lake County softball notes: Connelly, Mundelein enjoying breakthrough season

Mundelein is one of several North Suburban Conference teams playing high-caliber softball. The Mustangs started the week 12-3 and 4-1 in NSC action.

Mundelein beat Warren for the first time in four-plus years and maybe six years, coach Kat McCreery noted.

In a comeback win over Stevenson, freshman center fielder Kieley Tomas made what McCreery called an ESPN Top 10-worthy play in deep center field on a ball hit over her left shoulder.

"Kieley had to leave her feet and reach deep behind her body on a hard line drive," she said.

Offensively, sophomore Claire Connelly is driving the hits bus for the Mustangs. To start the week, she was hitting .548 with a 1.405 slugging percentage and a 2.001 OPS (on-base plus slugging). In 47 plate appearances, Connelly has 5 doubles, 2 triples, 9 home runs and 27 RBI to go with 23 runs scored. She has not struck out and has a hit in every game except one.

"Claire is unstoppable right now," McCreery said. "Her stats are ridiculous."

Tomas is hitting .481 with 10 RBI and 19 runs scored, while Shae Johnson is at .435 with 5 doubles, 4 home runs, 19 RBI and has an .848 slugging percentage. Lillian Scardicchio is hitting .400 with 3 doubles, while Tailyor Egbert his hitting .381 with a .714 slugging percentage. She has 8 doubles, 4 triples, 2 homers and 14 RBI to go with 13 runs scored.

"Lillian was recently brought up and has made her presence known immediately," McCreery explained. "She is batting fourth in the lineup for us. Kieley is our leadoff hitter and has really gotten hot after a slow-ish start offensively."

Libertyville update:

The wins have come with frequency of late for Libertyville.

The Wildcats started the week on a four-game winning streak and sat at 13-7 overall and 6-1 in North Suburban Conference action. During those four wins (Zion-Benton, Mundelein, Grayslake North and Stevenson), Libertyville outscored its opponents by a combined 55-15.

"We are hitting the ball really well up and down the lineup," Cats coach Sean Ferrell said. "The best thing I like about our offense is how we compete. We do a great job hitting with two strikes and making the opponent work."

Ferrell added defense, baserunning and pitching have been the biggest keys in the team's recent improvement. "Those are often overlooked areas of the game, but have been a huge difference-maker because we have taken extra bases and capitalized on scoring opportunities on the base paths."

Outfield play, in particular, on defense has made a difference of late.

"Defensively, I am happy with our improvement in the outfield," Ferrell noted. "Our kids have made big strides and we have done a great job getting the ball where it needs to go and not giving opponents freebies or extra chances."

Senior Finnley Olsen and freshman Taylor Higham have been strong in the circle.

"Finnley continues to battle and sets such a good example for Taylor," Ferrell said. "Finn and Taylor are two of the most competitive, mentally tough kids I have coached. Neither is intimidated by the moment and have great mound poise and presence."

Getting into specifics on offense, sophomores Adriana Callahan and Makayla Boone have hit well. "Adriana and Makayla continue to make our offense go," Ferrell said. "Adriana has done such a nice job in the leadoff position. She is such a tough out and never gives up an at-bat. Makayla is the perfect 3-hitter. She doesn't strike out, drives the ball in the gap, and her poise is amazing. She has a great temperament for the game."

Callahan was hitting .492 to start the week and leads the team in hits. Boone is tied for the team lead in home runs with 6 and RBI.

Ferrell also is high on sophomore first baseman Zoe Kinsella and third baseman Emily Pshogios. "Zoe and Emily have made huge contributions," he said. "Zoe is one of the most competitive kids I have ever coached. She does everything full speed to the best of her ability."

Senior Peyton Murphy has helped Libertyville in a variety of ways as well.

"In addition to her contributions on the mound, Peyton has started to hit and drive in runs, which I knew she would and that has been a big difference along with Finnley, who has delivered key hits and driven in runs for us in addition to her work on the mound."

Ferrell likes where things are headed as the calendar inches toward May.

"Overall, our kids compete, never give up at-bats and have made significant strides on the base paths, and defensively eliminating second-chance opportunities for our opponents," he said. "Our kids gel well with each other and love being around each other, which is a huge part of our improvement and consistency. I look forward to the things we can potentially accomplish if we continue to play this way. I am proud of our kids and their improvements. We come to play when we step between the lines."

Warren update:

The Blue Devils started the week 12-5 overall and 5-1 in North Suburban action.

In a recent 5-1 win over Marengo in nonconference play, Kaitlyn Weidemann went 3-for-4 with a double and three runs scored. Gabi Olavarria was 3-for-4 with 2 RBI, while Nikki Peter was 2-for-3 with an RBI. Sydney Jackson was the winning pitcher.

In a 9-5 win over Grant, Angelina Perez was 3-for-4 with a walk, a double, a home run and 3 RBI. Camryn Vawter was 3-for-3 with a walk, a double, a homer and 2 RBI. Jackson was the winning pitcher. She struck out 11.

Olavarria was leading the team in hitting at .392 with 20 RBI and a .725 slugging percentage. Weidemann was hitting .353, and defensively had 9 putouts and 25 assists.

"Our team is putting it all together right now," Warren coach Jenna Charbonneau said. "We have had some adversity and we are overcoming it. We are competing every pitch and playing tough softball. We're looking forward to the second time through conference play."

One particular bright spot of late has been the play of Perez.

"Angelina has been stepping up in a big way with her bat recently," Charbonneau said. "She has been given some opportunities to hit and has knocked it out of the park. She has been hitting the ball with so much power."

Charbonneau added Weidemann also has been enjoying a great run offensively. "We recently moved Kaitlyn to the leadoff spot and she has been a leader for us there," she said. "She's getting on base in big situations."

Antioch update:

It's been business as usual for Antioch, which defeated Grant (5-3) and Wauconda (13-5) in recent Northern Lake County Conference games to move to 16-0 overall and 5-0 in conference action.

Offensively, Jacey Schuler started the week hitting .617 with 4 doubles, 6 home runs (2 grand slams), 37 RBI and 14 runs scored. Eden Echevarria is hitting .537 with 5 doubles ,1 triple, 4 home runs and 20 RBI to go with 26 runs scored. Emily Brecht is hitting .535 with 2 doubles 7 homers, 20 RBI and 15 runs scored.

In the circle, Schuler is 9-0 with a 0.79 ERA to go with 114 strikeouts in 53 innings pitched. Syerra Gilmore is 6-0 with a 1.09 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 32 innings.

"Besides only having two close games so far, we have been putting teams away in all facets of the game," Antioch coach Anthony Rocco said.

Antioch's pitching staff has a 1.07 ERA, while the Sequoits' defense has a .986 fielding percentage and has allowed 3 stolen bases.

"We also continue to shut down opponents from taking extra bases on a hit," Rocco pointed out. "In our game against Wauconda, our outfielders threw out two baserunners trying to take extra bases."

In the win against Wauconda, Echavarria and Grace Green were big at the plate. Echavarria went 5-for-5 with a double, triple, 2 RBI and three runs scored "on some slick baserunning," Rocco said. Green hit two homers (solo and a 2-run shot).

Echavarria also hit a game-ending 2-run homer against Grant.

Antioch has 5 freshmen on the varsity, "who have given us depth in the lineup and from the bench," Rocco noted. "They are hitting a combined .445 and play outstanding defense in key positions for us."

In May Antioch will be tested over three weekends against Class 4A powers such as Lockport, Fremd, Lincoln-Way Central and defending Class 4A champion St. Charles North.

"The reason we have been perfect so far and beaten some of the top 4A schools in the state is because we have come out with high energy whenever we face a challenge," Rocco said. "We are also getting big performances from somebody different every game."

Carmel update:

Yet another Lake County team that continues to excel is Carmel, which came into the week 11-1 overall and 3-0 in East Suburban Catholic play.

Recently, the Corsairs downed Fremd (3-2), Lake Zurich (10-0), Wauconda (8-2) and Joliet Catholic (16-9).

Freshman Grace King hit a home run against Lake Zurich, while senior pitching standout Madison DeBennette went 6 innings and allowed only 2 hits.

In the Wauconda win, Carmel hit 4 home runs. Sophomore Grace Brown had 3 hits including a home run and 2 RBI. Senior Camryn Rapplean had a homer and 2 RBI, while DeBenette also homered, as did junior Ainsley Rastovac. DeBennette struck out 14.

Against Joliet Catholic, Carmel pounded out 16 hits. Junior Aly Krogman had 4 RBI. Senior Kaylie McKenna hit 2 home runs, while senior Kate Novak hit a grand slam.

King was leading the Corsairs with a .512 batting average to start the week. Brown was at .488, while Novak was hitting .425 and Krogman was at .417, while Rapplean was hitting .409.

DeBennette has a 1.94 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 61 innings. She's given up only 45 hits.

"What I like the most about our team is the fight and effort they show every game," Carmel coach Kelli Layton said. "They fight and play hard until the final out. They focus on keeping it simple and make it their goal to win each inning. They stay composed throughout the game and focus on making adjustments at the plate."

Layton said DeBennette and Rapplean, in particular, have turned up the jets lately.

"One of our pitchers was unavailable due to being in concussion protocol and Madison stepped up to pitch more innings than anticipated," Layton explained. "She has handled the workload and has pitched well for us over the course of the entire season. Her energy and focus on the mound sets the standard for our entire team."

Layton added at the start of the season, it was unknown how offseason hip surgery would affect Rapplean.

"Camryn worked hard to rehab and is holding down center field for us," she said. "She is covering a ton of ground, making important plays and has done a great job at both the leadoff and the No. 2 spot for us on offense. Both Madison and Camryn have been great leaders for our team and program."

Grayslake Central update:

The Rams recently downed Round Lake 15-0 behind Trinity Breault's 5-inning no-hitter. She struck out eight. The Rams also lost to Prairie Ridge 5-0 and scored wins over Glenbrook South (9-1) and Lakes (13-6).

In the Glenbrook win, Eliza Piggott went 3-for-4 with a homer, a double and 4 RBI, and also scored 2 runs. Angela Ayala went 2-for-4 with a double and 2 RBI (2 runs scored). Zalei Gryb went 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI.

In the Lakes victory, Annie Wolff pitched 7 innings and struck out six, while also going 2-for-4 at the plate with a home run, a double, 3 runs scored and 2 RBI. Emma Andrews went 3-for-5 with a double, 2 runs scored and 2 RBI. Dani Eckenstahler went 2-for-5 with a double, 3 runs scored and 2 RBI, while Kate Davies went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI.

In a suspended game against St. Viator (Central winning 1-0 in the third), Andrews belted a home run. That game continues May 10. In a 6-2 loss to Dundee-Crown, Andrews went 2-for-3 with 2 RBI.

Central also had a game against Glenbrook North suspended in the top of the fifth (Central winning 14-5). Sam Merkelz was 2-for-3 with 3 runs scored and a double. Piggott had 2 RBI, while Andrews was 2-for-2 with 2 runs scored ,a double and 3 RBI. Davies was 2-for-3 with a double, triple and 3 RBI, and Gryb had a double and 2 RBI.

Central was 3-6 overall and 2-1 in NLCC action to start the week.

Andrews was leading the team in hitting at .478 with a 1.065 OPS to go with 2 doubles and 5 RBI. Piggott was hitting .407 with a 1.281 OPS with 2 homers, 9 runs scored and 8 RBI.

"The team has greatly improved on defense over the past two weeks, and our pitchers have done a good job keeping us in games," Central coach Jim Plaza said. "The offense has started to click, and we are taking much better at-bats as a team. The middle of the order has been driving the ball consistently, and we have done a much better job putting pressure on the opposing defense, even against solid pitching. The girls have developed the mindset that they can compete with anybody."

Plaza noted Central has benefitted from contributions throughout the lineup.

"Emma and Eliza have stepped up on the offensive side of the ball and have solidified the middle of the order along with Dani and Annie," he said. "Emma has also done a great job at shortstop defensively all season. Annie and Trinity Breault have stepped up their game in the circle, and along with Eliza behind the plate, have done a much better job of controlling the game by attacking hitters and pitching intelligently."

Plaza added he sees Central continuing to move the needle to the right. "As I have been saying all year, we have a great group of girls that has shown the willingness to improve as individuals and as a team," he said. "It has been fun to see their hard work pay off and their confidence as a team grow. I am proud of the progress we have made so far and we will continue to work and compete."

Vernon Hills update:

The Cougars started the week 6-13 overall and 2-0 in Central Suburban North action. Vernon Hills recently defeated the Deerfield/Highland Park team 19-1, lost 6-5 to Grayslake Central, lost 12-7 to Palatine and 13-11 to Grant.

Over those last four games, Shyanne St. Louis hit .615, including a double, a triple and had two steals. Cate Pangilinan hit .556 during that stretch and had a double and 2 steals. Coach Jan Pauly also lauded her season-long strong play at second base. Katie Polisson hit .545 in those four games, while Kaite Cir hit .533 and from behind the plate threw out two runners trying to take stolen bases. Morgan Hart had a 2.80 ERA in those games and is "taking charge on the mound," Pauly said. The Cougs also benefitted from the strong play of center fielder Izzie Loiben during that stretch.

On the year, St. Louis is hitting .476 while Amanda Teschky is hitting .422. Cir continues to excel at catcher: "Strong catching performance of late and throwing out runners," Pauly noted.

Pauly explained Hart has been pitching a lot more innings than originally planned due to injury on the Vernon Hills pitching staff. She added St. Louis has turned in quality at-bats and going to the opposite field when needed. Pauly also praised the work of Emma Janzen, who has come in as a relief pitcher and is "getting the job done," she said.

Pauly added Vernon Hills continues to improve. "We're a good hitting team and fast on the bases," she said. "We're a young team that works hard to get better every day."

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