Although the Riverside-Brookfield High School softball team closed last season with a 10-0 loss to Montini in the Aurora Central Regional, significant progress was made under first-year head coach Doug Schultz.
This spring, RBHS returns its entire starting lineup, except outfielder Samantha Cook who is playing softball at Triton. All-conference players Katie O’Connell, Lana Herrmann and Kendal Hastings anchor a talented lineup.
O’Connell is a four-year starter and was the team’s pitching ace last spring. While she will see time in the pitcher’s circle this season, Schultz plans to use O’Connell in the field as well. She hit .477 with 30 runs batted in, 20 runs scored and no strikeouts in 107 at bats in 2014.
Herrmann is the Bulldogs’ most versatile and athletic player. The bulk of her playing time will come behind the plate and in the outfield. The hard-hitting senior batted .442 with seven home runs, 39 RBIs, a 0.579 on-base percentage and 0.965 slugging percentage last season. O’Connell and Herrmann are the Bulldogs’ co-captains.
Hastings is another outstanding player, who led RBHS in batting average at .482 with 41 hits in 85 at bats last season.
“Kendall is an excellent hitter who knows how to get on base,” RBHS coach Doug Schultz said. “We’re looking for big things out of her this season.”
Seniors Liz DiMonte and Caitie Rusen offer additional experience for the Bulldogs. DiMonte is one the team’s top pitchers and a very good hitter (.392, 25 RBIs), while Rusen can play multiple positions in the infield.
The rest of the lineup is young and talented. Sophomore Lyndsey Hoyd (.370, 10 RBIs) will likely hit leadoff and play center field. Fellow sophomores Taylor Holin (shortstop/outfielder) and Cammi Shaw (catcher/first baseman) will also contribute after gaining experience on the varsity last spring. Sophomore Alivia Ranieri, who pitched for the JV last season, provides depth in the starting rotation. Schultz is also excited about the potential of freshmen Bailey Hastings and Sophia Spirios who could both see playing time.
Tricia Scalese, Marissa McDermott, Ava Castelaz, Camryn Hamilton and Nicole McCabe along with assistant coaches Jame Holt and Allie Parcel comprise the rest of the team.
“We’re starting to put the pieces together,” Schultz said. “We have a lot of versatility. I value players who can play multiple positions. Hopefully that helps make us competitive.
“I feel great because [the new coaching staff] came in late last year and we kind of had to assimilate to the players. Now they are assimilating to us. Even cuts were tough [last year] because we had such a small window of time to see the quality of players we had. This year, we’ve had a full preseason with open gyms and conditioning so we’re better prepared.”
Although the Bulldogs possess plenty of thunder in the order with hitters like Herrmann, Hastings and O’Connell, executing the fundamentals will be a point of emphasis.
“My philosophy is our coaching staff gets its work done in practice and the players’ time to shine is on the field,” Schultz said. “I want a group of girls that know situational softball and react well towards any situation. Each player needs to anticipate if the ball is hit to her, where the baserunners are and where her throw should go. Having instincts for the game is huge.”
While RBHS will be more settled this spring, an expanded Metro Suburban Conference and moving from Class 3A to 4A ensure elements of the unknown.
“I think wins and losses are something you just can’t predict,” Schultz said. “I know that we’re putting in the work and this season has a better feel to it [than last season]. I’d like go further than we did last season and win a regional, but our goal is just to keep improving.”
Another change this season is the welcomed addition of a fence around the outfield at Veterans Park in North Riverside [RBHS home field].
“Not having a fence was tough,” Schultz said. “Lana Herrmann probably lost about eight home runs because there was no fence. We’re excited that we’ve added it and the playing surface is amazing.”
RBHS opens the season at home against Illiana Christian on March 23 at 4:30 p.m. In addition to conference play, the Bulldogs will face several solid non-conference opponents including area rivals Nazareth, Lyons Township, Morton, Fenwick and Oak Park and River Forest.
“I love having a tough non-conference schedule,” Schultz said. “Facing good teams will prepare us well for the playoffs. We’re all excited and eager to get the season started.”