The Riverside-Brookfield softball program has won 20-plus games in 10 of 11 seasons under head coach Dan Hull. So, despite losing stars Fallon Ryan, Rachel Buccieri and Regan Riley (three-fourths of the RB infield) and Lindsay Hayes (pitcher) to graduation, the Bulldogs’ blueprint for continued success is really more about reloading than rebuilding.
Riverside-Brookfield finished 28-9 (9-0 Metro Suburban Conference) and won conference and regional championships last season.
“It’s always a different challenge,” Hull said. “I get excited every year. I always tell myself to take it easy, but then when its 1-1 in the third inning of a game early in the season my blood starts boiling.”
Hull is hardly the lone competitor on the new look Bulldogs. Another familiar face returns in senior shortstop Jessie Hutchens. Fresh off a stellar performance as the RB point guard in basketball, Hutchens (hit .290 last season) offers considerable athleticism to anchor the infield. Rounding out the diamond are third baseman Kiley Rusen, first baseman Stacy Kabat and juniors Molly Ely and Maggie Zeleny who may split time at second base. Zeleny also will see action in the outfield along with Megan Landahl, Becky Mantel, Cassie Cook and Stephanie Duve. The Demitro sisters, Michelle (.309) and Liz (.333), are key returners slated to start in centerfield and behind the plate, respectively.
Michelle Demitro, Rusen and Zeleny are the probable table setters offensively for sluggers like Hutchens, Kleinmeyer and Liz Demitro.
The RB pitching rotation features talented sophomore Kiley O’Connell, senior Morgan Vogel and the lefty Kleinmeyer. Vogel went 9-4 and O’Connell finished 6-1 last season, while Kleinmeyer pitched a ton of innings on the JV team.
“I couldn’t tell you who will be are No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3,” said Hull about the rotation order. “Whoever gives up the least amount of walks, moves the ball around and pitches smart will be successful. Our pitchers have to hit their spots and keep hitters off balance.”
The pitcher’s circle has been moved back to 43 feet (previously it was 40 feet) in high school softball this season.
“Defense is always important for us, but it will play an even bigger role this year,” Hull said. “The hitters will have extra time so more balls will be put into play this season.”
The Bulldogs have an excellent chance to recapture their conference title, however Elmwood Park and conference newcomer Illiana Christian should ensure a competitive race.
“Our goals are always to win at least 20 games, win conference and make a deep run in the playoffs,” Hull said. “It will still take me a little while to learn about this group. The key will be if the girls play together as a team.”
The Bulldogs open the season against Willowbrook, Addison Trail and Immaculate Conception this week at the Max Indoor Sports Facility in McCook.