Softball: Hard work during pandemic has Wauconda hitting dingers
The Wauconda softball team has had a habit of hitting dingers this year.
In fact, the Bulldogs have hit a whopping 29 home runs so far. In 14 games.
"We've been taking really good at-bats," Wauconda coach Tim Orisek said. "I know that Barrington has hit a lot of home runs this year, too, but I would think that probably no one else in the state is even close to that many home runs.
"I think we had a lot of our girls work really hard in the cages over COVID and it shows. I mean, two years ago, we had like 5 home runs for the entire season, and we thought that was pretty great."
In the season opener against Mundelein, the Bulldogs had 5 home runs in that game alone.
Julia Fohlmeister had a grand slam in that game and wound up with a total of 8 RBI.
On Tuesday against Antioch, Fohlmeister had one of Wauconda's 3 total home runs and drove in 4 RBI.
Fohlmeister has 4 home runs on the year, as does Bryn Lucht.
Liv Romer leads the team with 6 home runs while Taylor Koehler and Calli Janik each have 5 home runs.
"It's nice to be able to have that kind of offensive firepower because you've got players who can change the game in one at-bat," Orisek said. "And it really takes the pressure off our pitchers.
"We can just go out there and the defense can concentrate on making plays because the offense is always giving run support."
The Wauconda offense has been more than just home runs though.
Through 14 games, the 11-3 Bulldogs have put up 169 runs for about 12 runs per game.
Power hitting isn't the only reason Wauconda is one of the best softball teams in Lake County this season.
Junior pitcher Rachel Peat has raced out to a 6-3 record as the team's ace.
She's got the most pitching experience on the team having gotten significant innings as a freshman.
"She's drawing on that experience now," Wauconda coach Tim Orisek said of Peat. "She is a 24/7, 365 softball fanatic. She lives, breathes and eats the game and I can't wait to see what she does with the rest of this year and next year.
"Rachel just throws everything well. I don't think she even has a 'best pitch.' She does a great job of hitting her spots and working the count with all of her pitches."
It's new, but also not so new.
Kat McCreery is the new head softball coach at Mundelein.
But it's not her first rodeo.
McCreery's also been a head coach at Bloomington High School from 2006 to 2009. She led that program to its first conference championship in 25 years and its first supersectional bid in school history.
That success pushed her into her most recent job, as head coach at Illinois Wesleyan. She wound up at Mundelein from Illinois Wesleyan when her husband took a job in the Mundelein school district.
"I think the biggest difference between college and high school is probably the softball IQ and how players approach the game," McCreery said. "At the college level, you're really trying to push your players to see the game in shades of gray rather than in black and white.
"We are trying with our players to get them to do that a little bit, to really read the game."
In and out:
Mundelein, which got off to a 7-4 record, has both the infield and the outfield covered well.
Catcher turned shortstop Kellie Shanahan has been known for her acrobatic and game-changing plays in the infield.
"She's had a triple play, she's had diving catches," Mundelein coach Kat McCreery said. "That's a game-changer for your team and your pitchers." Meanwhile, three veteran seniors have the outfield covered.
Katie Cabrera is in left field, Emma Umbdenstock is in center field and Tess McKay is in right field. All three are in their third year of being on the varsity roster.
"It's important for our defense and for our pitchers to have that kind of experience in the outfield," McCreery said. "They all work so well together too. They've had a lot of innings together."
Mundelein has used primarily two sophomore pitchers this season.
But not in a conventional way.
Ashley Wolverton and Gaby Seleps have been a tag-team pitching staff of two.
"They are pretty much pitching by committee," Mundelein coach Kat McCreery said. "It's rare that one of them pitches the entire game. We usually start Ashley and then we'll finish with Gaby, and it's been working great.
"I kind of feel like this method is playing to their strengths and they have different strengths and they complement each other well."
Sliding isn't outlawed at Vernon Hills, but it is the cause of some tough breaks.
The Cougars, out to a 9-10 start, have lost two starters to broken ankles due to sliding: junior pitcher Amelia Vlahos and sophomore third baseman Amanda Teschky.
Both are out right now, and Teschky is likely out for the entire season.
"Without a doubt, we were counting on those two kids," Vernon Hills coach Jan Pauly said. "It's not an excuse, but it's been a big challenge without them."
One and only:
At the start of the season, only one player for Vernon Hills had any varsity experience.
Junior shortstop Kayla Lorenz played as a freshman.
"Everyone else is new to varsity," Vernon Hills coach Jan Pauly said. "And we have no seniors on the team.
"So Kayla has really been an anchor and she has embraced that role. She gets our team going, she has taken the lead on team conversations and leads post games. She's great at helping to keep the kids focused and accountable and she's really good with the younger kids."
Two players Lorenz has taken under her wing are freshmen pitchers Morgan Hart and Samone Stevens, the team's top two pitchers.