Softball: Balanced attack helping Vernon Hills get on track
Things are trending in the right direction for the Vernon Hills softball team lately.
Coach Jan Pauly's squad was 4-0 in Central Suburban Conference North action to start the week and sported an 8-9 overall mark, which included spring training games in Alabama.
After beating St. Viator, the Cougars downed Grant 10-7 and lost to a strong Palatine team 12-11 in 8 innings. "We had a good game against a solid St. Viator team and also had an explosive offense (last Saturday) against Grant and Palatine," Pauly said. "Our defense was on fire all weekend. We are all about the team and doing our best. Everyone contributes."
Pauly noted six regular starters are at or above .400 hitting. Pitchers Samone Stevens and Morgan Hart also have excelled. "Samone and Morgan are doing a great job of keeping the opponents guessing and are locating their pitches," she said.
Why were the Sequoits 12-0 and ranked No. 1 in the Class 3A ICA coaches poll to start the week?
For starters, Antioch had a staff ERA of 0.85 heading into the new week. Jacey Schuler was 9-0 with a 0.72 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 58 innings, while Syerra Gilmore was 3-0 with 25 strikeouts in 24 innings and a 1.17 ERA.
Over a recent five-game stretch, Eden Echevarria hit .611 with 2 doubles, 3 home runs and 6 RBI, while Schuler hit .474 with 2 doubles, 1 homer and 7 RBI.
Recent wins for Antioch included an 8-5 victory over McHenry and a strong 3-2 win over Class 2A No. 12 Richmond-Burton. Antioch also beat Wauconda 12-2 in a Northern Lake County game. Wauconda beat Antioch twice last year.
In the Richmond game, Emily Brecht hit a solo homer to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth and Echevarria hit a game-ending solo home run in the seventh. Gilmore was the winning pitcher against McHenry and also hit a 3-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to put the Sequoits up a run.
"We are doing a great job in the circle and at the plate with clutch hitting when needed," Antioch coach Anthony Rocco said. "Despite graduating three seniors, our sophomores have really improved to pick up what we lost from graduation."
The Eagles were recent 10-7 nonconference winners over Woodstock North. Also, Lakes dropped a 3-0 Northern Lake County game to front-runner Antioch even after losing Wichita State commit CC Fleming after the third inning due to injury.
Speaking of Fleming, she was on a recent two-game home run streak, while Lilly Morin also has enjoyed offensive success.
"CC has multiple home run games and Lilly had over a .500 average over the past week," Lakes coach Bill Hamill noted.
Hamill likes the progress he continues to see. "We are young and having difficulty, but they are working hard and are eager to work hard and get better," he said.
Warren (10-4 overall) was off to a 3-0 North Suburban start thanks to a 17-2 win over Waukegan, a 10-0 win over Stevenson and a 7-3 win over Lake Zurich.
Over the break in Tennessee, Hailey Conger (batting .640 to start the week) hit for the cycle in a game there. "Hailey is producing as our leadoff hitter," Blue Devils coach Jenna Charbonneau said. "She is a tough out in our lineup. She has a killer combination of speed and power."
Charbonneau is pleased with what she has seen thus far in a challenging weather environment. "I like how our team is coming along," she said. "it has been tough with the weather and the rainouts. I know we will continue to hit our stride when we can get more games on the schedule. We are playing great defense, hitting the ball well and performing well on the mound."
Grayslake Central update:
The youthful Rams split a recent nonconference doubleheader with Glenbrook South (13-4 win, 15-5 loss) and stood at 4-6 to start the week.
"We are a very young team and need the weather to cooperate so we can start to get in a rhythm," Rams coach Jason Schaal said.
In the Glenbrook win, Rachel Smigielski went 4-for-5 (double and a home run) with 4 runs scored and 4 RBI. Eliza Piggott added a double and 2 RBI.
Smigielski, a returning all-state player, was hitting .519 to start the week (1.637 OPS and 1.037 slug). She had 14 hits in her first 10 games, including 4 triples and a homer. Piggott was hitting .464 (1.55 OPS, 1.036 slug) and had 13 hits to start the week (3 triples, 3 home runs) to go with a team-best 14 RBI. "Defensively, Eliza is as strong of a catcher as I have seen," Schaal said. "Her caught-stealing numbers are increasing each game."
Also notable has been freshman No. 1 pitcher Annie Wolff. "Annie has grown so much this season and we are very proud of her," Schaal said. "She has been thrown into the NLCC, a very strong conference, and gives her best daily."
Fellow freshman Emma Andrews is hitting at the top of the lineup and plays shortstop. She was third on the team to start the week with 9 hits.
"We are young and we knew that going in," Schaal said. "This group brings a great attitude every game, and is always willing and wanting to learn. Most of them are playing up an age group, but they do not make excuses. Everyone wants to win, but understanding what needs to be done to win is where we are at and we improve each week."
Lake Zurich update:
Through the Bears' first seven games, Hannah Kohlman hit 3 home runs. Coach Kelly Hardbarger added her cleanup hitter also is getting it done in the field, making several diving caches in right field.
Also playing well of late for the Bears (3-4, 2-2 NSC to start the week; 2-game conference winning streak) are Amy Nelson and Zoe Hilton. Nelson leads off for LZ and is hitting over .400, while Hilton drew praise from Hardbarger for her pitching efforts in her first year on the varsity. "Zoe is pitching extremely well," she said.
"Our team is finally becoming a cohesive unit," Hardbarger added. "We have a lot of depth in each position, so it has taken us a little more time to find the most successful lineup."
The Bulldogs had a recent 2-1 stretch where they downed Carmel 8-7, defeated Lakes 18-8 and lost to Barrington 11-1. Wauconda was sitting at 7-5 overall to start the week.
Senior first baseman Taylor Koehler has been leading the way for the Bulldogs, hitting .543 (1.522 OPS) with 19 hits, 2 homers, 16 RBI and 16 runs scored. Junior center fielder Bryn Lucht was hitting .487 to start the week (1.687 OPS) with 19 hits, 6 home runs, 20 RBI and 16 runs scored, while junior middle infielder Lia Taglia was at .487 (1.451 OPS) with 19 hits, 3 homers, 14 RBI and 18 runs scored.
"Taylor, Bryn and Lia lead the team in hits and have been extremely patient at the plate, putting together quality Abs and looking to drive the ball to the outfield," coach Tim Orisek explained.
In terms of a progress report through 12 games: "At times, we are playing up to our potential, but have yet to find the consistency to match the level of talent we have," Orisek said. "I like that we are hitting the ball well, but there are definite areas of improvement that we can make as a team to fully reach the potential I know we have. Once we can do that, we will be a very dangerous team."
Freshman Grace Brown had quite the outing in a recent doubleheader split with Nazareth Academy. Brown, played a strong third base in the opener and then went behind the plate in a 19-6 Game 2 win that saw her hit for the cycle. "Grace came into her own (last) weekend," Corsairs coach Jodi Swiatkowski said. "I am very excited to see Grace's progress as she continues to get comfortable with the team."
Kaylie McKenna and Madi DeBennette also have helped Carmel. DeBennette was hitting .417 to start the week and also has been solid on the mound. McKenna was cited for strong defensive play and also was hitting .417 heading into the week. "Kaylie's desire to play at her fullest potential every moment shows," Swiatkowski said. "Her intensity level is the same if it's practice or a game. It's something the coaching staff tries to stress to all players."
Senior Caroline Gatchell also has been a contributor in the circle with DeBennette, while junior Camryn Rapplean has played well in center field, "going all out all the time and staying strong and aggressive as our leadoff hitter," Swiatkowski said of Rapplean.
Junior Katie Novak is coming back from a shoulder injury and has been able to hit for the Corsairs. "This has had a positive impact on our lineup and we will be very happy once she can return to the field," Swiatkowski said.