The Riverside-Brookfield softball team lost 9-2 loss to Nazareth in Saturday’s regional final, providing closure on the Bulldogs’ disappointing 11-21 season and ending one senior’s impressive high school career.

While it’s been an uncharacteristically tough season for the Bulldogs, catcher Emily Hastings produced a stellar senior campaign. She broke Kiley Rusen’s record for highest batting average (.549) in a single season this spring. Hastings finished this season hitting to a .593 clip.

“I was very proud of breaking that record,” Hastings said. “I wanted to leave a lasting impression after I graduated, so it’s pretty cool knowing my name will be up there next to that record.”

The Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville recruit not only held down the middle of the Bulldogs’ batting order, but also enjoyed the autonomy of calling pitches for the majority of the season.

Hastings’ diverse role is certainly well-deserved in the estimation of RBHS head coach John Vermillion.

“Emily is the best catcher I’ve had in 25 years of coaching softball,” Vermillion said. “I called pitches the previous couple of years, but Emily is a senior with experience so I trusted her.”

Her potent bat made even more of an impact for the Bulldogs.

“I saw the ball from the hip more,” Hastings said. “That [adjustment] allowed me to see the ball better and correct myself at the plate. I think this was my best year hitting and I don’t regret anything.”

Vermillion offered the following unique distinction regarding Hasting’s offensive ability.

“Emily is the only player I basically gave the green light [to] on a 3-0 count,” he said. “I know she’s going to make really good contact and drive the ball hard somewhere.”

Hastings praised her teammates’ ability to shake off a brutal 0-7 start and produce a respectable 11-14 record the rest of the way.

“Obviously, we all would have liked to win more games,” Hastings said, “but we came a long way from the start of the season even if the stats don’t show it. I’ve seen every girl get better. As a captain of the team, I’m proud of that improvement.”

Perhaps no RBHS player improved more over the course of the season than Hastings’ younger sister, Kendall, a promising freshman second baseman.

“I’ve loved playing with Kendall this season,” Hastings said. “I had never played on the same team with her before due to our age difference. It was fun and we picked each other up.

“The cool part of our relationship is we don’t have any boundaries. We can say what we think.”

Hastings and Vermillion also share a simpatico vibe.

“When I replaced Dan [Hull] as the varsity coach three years ago, I brought up Emily, Kelly Ely and Ashlee Haugh together,” Vermillion said. “They have been the three amigos, playing together their entire time at RB.”

While Hastings is eager to pursue her studies and softball at SIU Edwardsville, the Riverside native relished her time at RBHS as a third-generation alum.

“The four years went by way too fast but it was fun,” Hastings said. “I learned how to balance my schoolwork and softball, and I made a lot of friends.

“My favorite memory is going out to dinner and having sleepovers with the girls on the softball team. Everybody got along really well.”

Due to the loss of several key seniors, notably the aforementioned “three amigos” Hastings, Ely and Haugh, the Bulldogs will look to bounce back with Kendall Hastings, Katie O’Connell, Lana Herrmann, Grace Cody, Natalie Gardiner and Hayden Claire among others next season.

“We were inexperienced and struggled defensively this season,” Vermillion said. “We have some talent. Over the last four weeks of the season, we basically played .500 softball.”

Hastings, who also plays on the Lemont Rockers travel team, is eager to play next season with the Cougars in Edwardsville.

“I loved everything about SIU Edwardsville when I visited it,” she said. “The coaches are bringing in more than one catcher so there will be a competition to see who’s the best and deserves to play. That’s fine with me.”