Softball: Geneva closing in on 1st conference crown
It would be hard to have a better year in girls athletics than Geneva's 2016-17 campaign.
Last fall the volleyball team reached the supersectional and the cross country team finished seventh in state. The basketball team won state in March. In this week's Daily Herald Top 20, both the Geneva soccer and softball teams are ranked No. 2.
The Vikings' softball team hasn't missed a beat, putting together a current 22-game winning streak on their way to the first conference championship in program history. With Wednesday's rainout against Batavia, the Vikings (24-2, 13-0) hold a 3-game lead over St. Charles East with 4 games to go. Geneva can clinch the title outright by beating St. Charles East on Friday, and even with a loss the Vikings would have three more games next week to clinch.
Coach Greg Dierks is closing in on 500 career wins. He's had some excellent teams through the years but never one win conference.
"Between Glenbard South and St. Charles North and St. Charles East, there's been seven years that someone in our conference has gone downstate," Dierks said. "You go back to Morris even in the Little Seven. Our good teams have been good, they just haven't been great. And we've always had someone great in there. This (UEC title) would be a welcome prize."
To have a season like Geneva is having, it takes all three phases -- pitching, defense and hitting. And the Vikings have it.
Freshman Emily Viebrock has stepped up in the circle after Ali Dierks was sidelined with a sprained tendon in her right hand. Viebrock improved to 14-0 by shutting out West Aurora last week.
"I thought she hit spots really well," West Aurora coach Randy Hayslett said. "I thought she threw inside and outside really well. She moved it, she kept it down in the zone. She didn't leave too many over the plate for us. She makes you work."
That's just what the Vikings have come to expect.
"She's not blowing people off the plate," Dierks said. "She makes some key pitches. She's not allowing herself to get caught up in anything. It's just her and the glove and she's got a lot of faith in her defense."
For good reason. Geneva's defense has been spectacular since an early season move to put freshman Sam Keller at shortstop and junior Katie Geary in center field.
Along with Ali Dierks at second base, Keller's older sister Katie completes the adage of being strong up the middle with her play at catcher.
"I'm so proud of my sister," Katie said of Sam. "She's really stepped up and done a great job at shortstop."
"Sam has found a rhythm there," Greg Dierks said. "She's just getting more aggressive and confident. She's helping solidify everything. Her footwork has been good and she has a strong arm too."
Last but certainly not least is an offense that has been putting pressure on opponents from top to bottom. Leadoff hitter Katie Keller is hitting nearly .600 with an on-base percentage close to .700 with plenty of power.
Seniors Kaitlyn Plocinski, Molly Wrenn and Annika Radabaugh in the middle of the order have a combined 12 years of varsity experience and are enjoying seeing their team reach new heights.
"She's (Plocinski) just as excited as I've ever seen her," Greg Dierks said. "She's so happy to be on a team that has been doing so well."
Smooth transition: Like Geneva, Huntley has had a championship spring, the Red Raiders once again the best in the Fox Valley Conference.
And like Geneva, Huntley owes part of its success to being strong up the middle defensively.
Caitlin Brown played left field last year, and this year she's moved to second base. Autumn Kasal also was an outfielder last year but has moved to shortstop.
"Caitlin Brown's defense this year has been extraordinary," Huntley coach Mark Petryniec said. "She's been solid defensively all year. Between Autumn and Caitlin up the middle has been a real solid combination for us for the first time playing those positions in high school.
"We get in jams and we're OK giving up a couple hits. We're a bend-but-don't-break defense. Our girls are a little tested. We're not afraid to have bases loaded and one out and try to get out of that situation."
Only Cary-Grove has beat Huntley in FVC action, a surprise considering the Trojans entered the game at 4-15. But the Red Raiders bounced right back, going 3-0 to win the Marengo softball tournament last weekend, then beating Hampshire by the 10-run rule Monday.
"You aren't going to win them all," Petryniec said. "In the middle of the season you can say there's no bad losses. It just gives you something to reset and re-motivate. Cary took us last year. They play us tough."
No small ball here: St. Charles East senior Rylee Stout smashed her area-best 13th home run Monday. Her home run also broke Rae Anne Payleitner's school season record of 12.
With 30 career home runs, Stout also passed Payleitner's previous record of 26 earlier this season. She has 57 RBI and a .990 slugging percentage.
Stout has plenty of company as far as power hitters in a lineup with big bats like Paige Ligocki, Delaney Devor and Maddy Stout. Ligocki has 9 home runs, Maddy Stout 7, and Devor is one of three players with 3 homers. As a team, St. Charles East has 38 home runs in 28 games.
Which is just the way Saints coach Jarod Gutesha likes it.
"Just because Rylee isn't up doesn't mean we don't have other kids in the lineup who can hit the ball out of the park," Gutesha said. "You look at what our kids do, we want to get the ball and drive it in the air. That's what we're trying to do. Our first look is let's drive the ball. In practice it almost becomes a competition between the girls."
Postseason pairings: The IHSA released matchups for the Class 3A and 4A tournaments on Wednesday.
Huntley is hosting a sectional and is a No. 1 seed in its subsectional. If the seeds hold, the Red Raiders could face Grant in the sectional semifinals and Barrington in a sectional championship game.
St. Charles East also hosts a sectional and is seeded first with a path that could include No. 8 Lake Park in the regional final, and No. 4 Elk Grove and No. 2 Conant in the sectional. St. Charles North is the fifth seed, Bartlett No. 6 and South Elgin is seventh.
Geneva is the third Fox Valley 4A school to earn a No. 1 seed. If the Vikings and No. 4 West Aurora both win a regional, they will meet in the Bolingbrook sectional semifinals. Plainfield North and Plainfield East are the second and third seeds.
In Class 3A, Kaneland hosts a regional and is one of two No. 1 seeds in the Sterling sectional. The Knights will face Burlington Central in the sectional semifinals if both teams win their regional.