Fox Valley softball, baseball teams capping banner year for area athletes
Heading into the final week of the 2018-2019 school year, I thought it was a good time to reflect upon the athletic achievements accomplished by Fox Valley area student-athletes.
There have been many -- and the spring season hasn't finished just yet for several local teams.
Four teams -- or exactly half of the 8-team field -- are playing in this weekend's Class 4A baseball and softball state semifinals taking place in Joliet and East Peoria, respectively.
While St. Charles North is making its second trip in 4 years to the state semifinals, Hampshire is headed to the state finals for the first time in school history Friday afternoon against Edwardsville.
Led by Indiana State-bound pitcher Matt Jachec's 5-hit complete game, coach Frank Simoncelli's Whip-Purs blanked perennial power Oak Park-River Forest in Monday's supersectional.
In addition to Jachec's heroics, the Whip-Purs have received significant contributions from pitcher Logan Nespor, catcher-pitcher Dylan Petrey, shortstop Gavin Kriegel, second baseman Caden Pyszka and outfielders Andrew Krajecki and Nick Sladek.
"At the beginning of the year we were like, who knows what we can do," said Simoncelli. "Now we're going to state."
St. Charles North is another team that has defied the odds this season.
Relying on a starting lineup that includes sophomores Nick DeMarco, Kevin White, Andrew Jimenez and Marco Torres, juniors Ryan Thiesse and Kyler Brown, and seniors Pat Bellock, Mike Gattuso and Egon Hein, the North Stars held off Wheaton North to capture the inaugural DuKane Conference title.
Coach Todd Genke's team has carried the momentum into the postseason.
After staving off a late rally during their 3-2 regional semifinal victory over Geneva, the North Stars have outscored their last four postseason foes, 25-7, capped by Monday's 8-1 supersectional triumph over Plainfield Central.
"With so many young kids at the start of the year, we had a lot of decisions to make," said Genke. "It's a credit to them -- they stepped up and put in the work and the time.
"We've talked about this (making it to state) all year. We're not afraid of it."
Sophomore right-hander Zach Kempe has started 4 of the North Stars' 5 playoff contests (classmate Jimenez started vs. WW South) with plenty of relief help from junior Johnny Lambert and senior John Hamer.
St. Charles North faces St. Rita Friday.
"We've had a lot of success in the last decade but getting to this point is really hard," said Genke. "You have to beat a lot of quality teams."
Huntley and St. Charles East will be represented at this weekend's 4A softball state tournament.
The teams have plenty in common, beginning with superb sophomore starting pitchers Briana Bower (Red Raiders) and Katie Arrambide (Saints).
Huntley (33-7), which takes on Marist Friday, set a school record for victories while punching its first ticket to state.
Meanwhile, St. Charles East (25-10) earned its first state berth since 2013 with Monday's 3-2 come-from-behind supersectional win over Whitney Young.
Seniors Maddy Stout, Krista Sbarra, Paige Ligocki and Alex Wooten have provided plenty of clout while junior Lauren Luna and sophomores Chelsea Campagna, Kati Gheorghe, Elliott Sanders, Arrambide, and freshman Izzy Howe have added punch.
"This is what we've been working toward the whole season," said Sbarra. "We want to make a name for ourselves."
Making a name for ourselves is exactly what has taken place at St. Charles North this season.
Searching for the school's first state title, St. Charles North doubled its pleasure within a 4-month stretch.
Led by seniors Megan Furtney (3rd place) and Sarah Arnold (6th), the North Stars captured the 3A girls golf state title last October in Forsyth.
"Our names are going to be put down in history as the first team ever to win a state championship at North," said Furtney, who qualified and competed in last week's U.S. Women's Open (missed the cut by just 3 shots).
Seniors Katelyn David (27th), Emma Hayes (46th), sophomore Isabella Spinazze (51st) and freshman Catie Nekola (33rd) supported the cause for the North Stars.
In February, coach Rob Rooney's North Stars claimed the school's second state championship, winning the boys swim crown.
Anchored by senior double-event individual champion Will Myhre and teammates Siba Filipovic, Nate Baxter, Charlie Williams, Ricky Williams, and Alec Filipovic, the North Stars outdistanced second-place Neuqua Valley, 141-112.
"I've been waiting 20 years for this and it's a lot harder than I thought," said Rooney.
Last fall, the North Stars' football team celebrated a first by advancing to the Class 7A state championship game.
Despite its 31-10 title game loss to Nazareth, St. Charles North (10-4) showed enormous grit and resiliency after losing its starting quarterback in Week 1 and starting tailback in Week 7 due to injuries.
Two-way standout Tyler Nubin played an instrumental part all season long, highlighted by his 4-touchdown performance during the North Stars' memorable 27-21 double-overtime semifinal victory over Mt. Carmel.
In March, St. Charles North's boys basketball team entered postseason play with just 11 wins but came together and claimed its first 4A regional title in 10 years with a 48-39 victory over Huntley.
Here's a salute to additional individual state champions, including St. Charles East's Edgar Burgos (bowling) and Justin Benjamin (3A wrestling -- 138 pounds); St. Charles North's Megan Armstrong (swimming -- 100 back); Burlington Central's Nick Termini (2A wrestling -- 145); Crystal Lake South's Christian Olsen (2A wrestling -- 113); Huntley's David Ferrante (3A wrestling -- 170); Marmion's Diego Sotelo (3A wrestling -- 106), Trevor Chumbley (145), Jake Stiles (152); Aurora Christian's Joel Mylin (1A wrestling -- 106), Noah Villarreal (132), Alyssa Busker (1A track -- 100, 200 dash); and Rosary's Lianna Surtz (2A track -- 1,600).
Finally, I send personal condolences to the family of Bartlett girls basketball coach Brad Hunt, who passed away suddenly Tuesday.
He will be missed greatly.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org