Softball: Wheaton North excited about No. 1 seed as it looks for 1st sectional crown

Allie Ravanesi has an easy reference point to help recall the last time Wheaton North softball won both conference and regional championships.

It was 1986.

Wheaton North's Reagan Crosthwaite (21) is all smiles after hitting a home run during the game on Monday May 13, 2024, while taking on Glenbard North High School. David Toney for Shaw Local News Network
Wheaton North's Makayla Grantz(4) lays out and catches the ball during the first inning of the game against Glenbard North on Monday May 13, 2024, held at Wheaton North High School. David Toney for Shaw Local News Network

Coincidentally, that’s the year the current Falcons’ coach was born.

“That’s the problem, we don’t have the hardware to back up our play,” Ravanesi said. “Last year we got second in conference. We’re taking those steps. We have been building. Hopefully this is our year to make a run.”

The Falcons (22-5, 10-2) won a big game Monday over Glenbard North to take control of the DuKane Conference race.

On the postseason front, Wheaton North has earned the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A Plainfield North sectional. Ravanesi, though, isn’t about to put the cart ahead of the horse. Wheaton North has never won a sectional.

“It’s obviously our goal to make a run, but one game at a time,” she said. ”We’re not even talking about regionals.”

The Falcons appear to be hitting their stride at the right time. They’ve won five consecutive games with close wins last week over Wheaton Warrenville South, Lake Park and Barrington. That came after Wheaton North dropped three of four, including losses to Glenbard North and St. Charles North.

Entering the week, Wheaton North has hit 37 homers on the season, led by Reagan Crosthwaite’s program-record 15 and Erin Metz’s seven. But Ravanesi said she wants her team to find ways to score without using the long ball.

“The only runs we had been scoring lately was on homers. That’s great, but we can’t count on home runs,” Ravanesi said. “Today [a 4-3 win over Barrington] we had 11 hits, and none of them were home runs. We put the ball in play, and we just made things happen. That’s what we’ve been doing the last couple games, getting back on track.

“That little spurt against Glenbard North and St. Charles North we weren’t hitting, weren’t making those fundamental plays. Now we’re back on track doing those things.”

Ravanesi will gladly take the No. 1 sectional seed, but she also isn’t taking anything for granted. Wheaton North last year earned a No. 2 seed, but was upset by West Chicago in a regional final.

“I try to keep them grounded,” she said. “It’s great that we’re No. 1, but weird things happen in the postseason. We play our game and we will go far, but if we’re not focused and don’t play our game, heck a 15 seed could beat us.”

Downers Grove North’s power pitching combo

Downers Grove North is closing in on a West Suburban Silver title, and it isn’t hard to figure out why.

As usual, it starts with pitching.

A program blessed with stellar talent in the circle over the years has two Division I pitchers in senior Ava Gusel, a DePaul recruit, and junior Ashlynn Durkin, a Florida Atlantic commit.

The two are the perfect complement, Gusel a left-hander and Durkin a righty.

“It’s good to have the look of a righty and lefty power pitcher,” Downers Grove North coach Eric Landschoot said. “They’re both working on their changeup, offspeed pitches, not afraid to mix it up, they attack the strike zone. I’ve had games where I put in Ava or Ashlynn for each other or vice versa. It takes hitters a while to adjust.”

Durkin in 60 innings has posted a 6-2 record with a 2.22 ERA and 106 strikeouts. Gusel over 54 innings has a 5-1 record with a 1.69 ERA and 77 strikeouts. Downers Grove North (14-7, 7-1) has a half-game lead on Oak Park-River Forest.

“I want to win conference again,” Gusel said. “We didn’t win it last year, but we did my sophomore year. I’m a senior, I really want to take conference.”

Gusel, in her fourth varsity season, said she’s incorporating more pitches as hitters acclimate to her. She’s utilized her changeup and dropball more. It helps to exchange ideas with Durkin, who has also been a teammate with the Orland Park Sparks travel team.

“We have a strong connection personally outside of softball,” Gusel said. “That’s helped a lot going into high school season. When we’re not in the right mind, we pick ourselves up and believe in each other. We tell each other it’s you and me, we got this. Whatever happens we can only control what happens on the mound. We’re here to help each other up.”

The Trojans’ offense is not great, but four-year varsity starter Maya Rodriguez, an Indianapolis commit, is batting .494 with a .541 on-base percentage, six doubles, two homers, 15 RBIs and 26 runs scored.

Downers Grove South’s big hitters

Downers Grove South (18-5) has won 15 of its last 17 games since a 3-3 start, led by three big hitters.

Senior shortstop and leadoff hitter Grace Taylor, an Appalachian State commit, is batting .507 with close to 15 stolen bases. Behind her, Wisconsin-Platteville commit Julia Colorato is batting around .500. And the power bat is senior Ella Cushing, an Illinois recruit batting .460 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs.

“They have definitely led by example,” Mustangs coach Jim Cushing said. “If Ella doesn’t get a big hit, Julia is there right before her and Grace is our spark plug. She can steal and is a great base runner. If somebody isn’t looking she can take the base. She has stolen half the bases on her own, is a very smart base runner. She has anchored our lineup.”

The Mustangs have leaned on that offense that scores over 10 runs per game, minus a tremendous amount of velocity in the circle. A wrist injury has limited Cushing to minimal innings in the circle, so sophomore Morgan Hahn has done much of the work there.

“We’ve had to hit a lot to win a lot of games,” coach Cushing said. “We’re getting better on defense. We’re not super duper tough on defense but every day we get a little bit better.”

Around the horn

IC Catholic Prep clinched the GCAC White title on May 4 with a 9-5 win over Trinity. Knights’ senior Analisa Raffaelli passed the 200-hit mark for her career this week and head coach Frank Reaber earned his 300th career win.

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