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Another excellent season unfortunately ended in disappointing fashion for the Riverside-Brookfield softball team last week.
St. Francis edged the Lady Bulldogs 4-2 in a semifinal matchup of the Glenbard South Sectional. Riding the momentum of a nine-game winning streak, RB appeared primed to finally overcome its annual obstacle in sectional play; however, the Spartans scored a pair of decisive runs in the bottom of the third inning en route to their win.
"We really felt like this was the year we could get through the sectional," RB coach John Vermillion said. "I think we have won like nine out of 10 regional titles, but the sectional has been a bugaboo for us."
After St. Francis took a 2-0 lead, the Bulldogs pulled within 2-1 in the second inning as Kelly Ely singled and scored on Kylie O'Connell's hit to right field. The Lady Bulldogs tied the score at 2-2 in the top of the third when Kiley Rusen hit a single, Jasmin Castaneda sacrifice bunted Rusen to second and Becky Mantel belted a double to score Rusen. The Spartans closed out the scoring with the aforementioned two runs in their half of the third via four straight hits.
O'Connell (19-8) pitched well in defeat, scattering six hits over six innings of work. Rusen capped her brilliant RB career reaching base three times via a single and pair of walks. The Valdosta State-bound third baseman hit .545 with 62 hits, 34 RBIs and 48 runs this spring. She leaves RB as the school's all-time hits career leader with 214, including a single-season high of 70 hits in 2010. Mantel, who will play at Radford University next season with former RB star Jessie Hutchens, also had a monster season by hitting .464 with 11 home runs, 62 RBIs and a .945 slugging percentage.
"We're going to miss O'Connell, Rusen and Mantel," Vermillion said. "That's two great hitters and our top pitcher. They all played varsity from their freshman season on up. But we also return nine key players next season.
"I think we'll be fine," he added. "We had some really good wins this season over teams like Oak Park and Downers North, but it's all about playing your best softball at the right time."
The Bulldogs, who went 26-8 overall, including a 9-3 mark in the Metro Suburban Conference this season, welcome back plenty of talent next spring. Those expected to make an impact from get-go include new ace Katie O'Connell (7-0 pitching record this season), and sluggers like Emily Hastings and Ashlee Haugh along with versatile players in Annabelle Gardiner, Emma Schander and Lana Herrmann.