Softball: Palatine, Hersey excited about their MSL title-game matchup
The 45th annual Mid-Suburban League softball championship game offers a new twist on Thursday in Arlington Heights.
For the first time, the coaches of both teams -- Palatine's Nicole Pauly Capalbo and Hersey's Molly Freeman -- are former players in the league.
Both were standout multisport athletes.
Capalbo starred in basketball and softball at Palatine while Freeman excelled in volleyball, basketball and softball at Fremd where she was named Athlete of the Year.
Capalbo (Northwestern) and Freeman (UIC) then went on to play Division I softball just like a few of their players will beginning next fall.
Capalbo's Pirates (24-2, 16-0) are the MSL West champs, winning a division title for the time in program history.
Freeman's Huskies (21-5, 13-3) are the East champs for the third straight year.
First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.
"Hersey has played on this stage before -- and we have not," Capalbo said. "We will have to stay loose and not make the game too big."
Palatine has played in its share of big games over the last two seasons, including a third-place finish in the Class 4A state tourney last June.
The Pirates feature a pair of D-I recruits in senior center fielder Grace Huff (Northwestern) and senior shortstop Emily Parrott (Appalachian State).
Other seniors on the team include senior catcher Anna Selleck and senior first baseman Amanda Stanczuk.
The junior class includes pitcher Rhiann Dick (22-2), outfielder Emily Brinkerhoff, junior utility player Chase Friel and junior outfielder Mandy Logan.
Sophomore third baseman Kaitlyn Reed is the leadoff batter. Also contributing have been freshman Kayla Courtney, Caitlin Williams and Kelly Beach.
"Our girls love the game of softball and have fun playing alongside one another," Capalbo said. "We are aggressive, athletic and great students of the game."
Freeman views her team, led by three college-bound seniors who have been around for four years, the same way.
"Our kids have been exciting to watch," said Freeman, who has guided the Huskies to three straight 20-plus win seasons. "And the chemistry is really fun to be around."
Senior pitchers Sarah Bailitz (Dayton) and Brianna Luciano (Winona State) have played key roles on the mound and in the batters box.
Classmate and South Dakota recruit Makayla Tsagalis ignites the offense from the leadoff spot. Infielders Chloe Gordon and Renae Curtis round out the senior group.
Juniors on the team include catcher Morgan Breden, outfielder Savannah Gazda, outfielder Kylie Makuh, outfielder Ria Patel, outfielder Megan Mullen and infielder Emily Thomas.
Sophomores include infielder Natalia Kubsik, infielder Neti Napoli and catcher Lauren Steininger.
Freeman said one key will be her hitters' patience.
"We have to be disciplined at the plate," Freeman said. "The last time we played them their pitcher did a good job moving the ball around. We need to be focused and swing at pitches in the strike zone."
Last year, Palatine made its first appearance in the state finals. This year, the Pirates have reached the MSL title game for the first time. The showcase event began in 1974 when Conant defeated Wheeling 9-7.
"I'm really excited for Palatine, too," Freeman said. "That's great for Nicole and those girls. Nicole is a really good person and I know she works really hard at Palatine and deserves this."
The feeling is mutual.
"Molly and her team find a way to be competitive and win every season," Capalbo said. "I have a lot of respect for Molly. Her teams play hard and it's going to be a great battle."
That was the case on April 11 when the two teams met in Palatine where the Pirates prevailed 2-1 in a terrific pitchers duel. Dick struck out 15 with a 3-hitter and Bailitz (9-2) tossed a 5-hitter with 12 strikeouts.
"We're thrilled to be playing the game again," Freeman said. "It's really exciting, The girls worked hard and they have earned it.
"Palatine's offense is great. It's important that we make them earn it. We need to pitch our game, stay in the zone and make sure we are not putting people on base."
Capalbo sees the title game as a superb warmup for the state tournament, which begins next week.
"This game will definitely prepare us for postseason by playing in an IHSA state game type of atmosphere, she said. "The MSL is a strong conference with many competitive teams. I've had my girls go to the championship game every season to watch the game and to fuel their fire and desire to play in this game in the future. We are extremely excited to represent the West.
"We need to focus on winning each pitch, making quick adjustments in the batters box, hitting our pitching spots, scoring when we get runners on and getting the defensive outs that are given to us."
The Pirates, ranked No. 1 in the Daily Herald Top 20, are 53-8 over the last two seasons.
"Our sole focus and most important game is the next game," Capalbo said. "We have focused on living in the moment and not looking ahead. We respect every opponent we face and control the things that we can control in a game -- such as our effort, attitude, how we treat one another and our character on the field."