The debut of John Vermillion as the Riverside-Brookfield softball coach went extremely well last spring as the Bulldogs recorded a 24-8 record, runner-up finish (9-3 mark) in the Metro Suburban Conference and a regional championship. With seven returning starters from last year’s sectional semifinalist squad, expectations are as high as ever.

“We feel that we can compete with any team on any level,” Vermillion said. “The girls have shown a marked increase in their confidence level over last year. With a year of experience under their belt at the varsity level, plus a year of coaching at the varsity level under my belt, we feel that winning the conference and getting to the state tournament are attainable goals.”

Leading the charge for the loaded Bulldogs will be returning all-conference players Becky Mantel, Kiley Rusen and Emily Hastings. A four-year varsity player/captain, Mantel hit .478 with five home runs, 29 RBIs, 39 runs scored and a .580 OBP last year. Mantel, who will patrol centerfield for RB, has signed with Radford University in Virginia. Third baseman Kiley Rusen, a Valdosta State signee, is another all-league selection who batted .496 with 56 hits, five home runs, 39 RBIs and 17 doubles last spring. Junior catcher Emily Hastings rounds out the Bulldogs’ dynamic “Big Three” fresh off driving in 37 RBIs.

The Bulldogs also return several other key players, most notably senior pitcher Kylie O’Connell (13-5, 2.37 ERA), junior shortstop Kelly Ely (.375, 28 RBIs), junior first baseman Ashlee Haugh (.348, 20 RBIs) and second baseman leadoff hitter Tierney Duffy (.339, 36 hits).

Projected new starters are outfielder/second baseman Jasmin Castaneda and right fielder Meghan Orgler, who starred on the RB girls basketball team. Multiple position players Megan Frey, Emma Schander, Annabelle Gardner and Allie Parcel offer depth and versatility. A freshman poised to make an immediate impact is pitcher Katie O’Connell, Kylie’s younger sister.

“Katie has a load of potential and a bright future at RB,” Vermillion said. “We should pound the ball this year. We batted .395 and scored 248 runs last season. I am excited about our offensive capabilities.”

The Bulldogs (1-0) certainly were all business in their season opener last week. RB cruised past host Westmont 10-0 in five innings. Rusen paced a 12-hit attack by finishing 2-for-4 with a triple, double and five RBIs, while Duffy went 3-for-3 with three runs scored, a walk and a stolen base from the leadoff spot.

Looking ahead, RB should battle defending conference champion Glenbard South for the conference title. The rivals face off on April 3 at Glenbard South and April 5 at RB.