This may be senior catcher Cameron Shaw’s fourth varsity season with the Riverside-Brookfield High School softball team, but it’s sure not more of the same.
“This season has been great. Every time we go on the bus, we always play music and no matter what, everyone is dancing and singing together,” Shaw said. “I think that actually helps our positivity on the field or even at practice. It’s significantly different than last year.”
With Saturday’s doubleheader split at York, the Bulldogs (10-4) already have equaled their 2016 victory total as they enjoy big improvements on and off the field.
They swept rival Lyons Township 4-3 and 2-0 April 1 in Western Springs. On April 11, they opened Metro Suburban Conference Blue Division play with a 3-2 victory over Glenbard South, the defending champions who won the 2016 title with a 12-0 record.
Shaw and shortstop/pitcher Alaina Ranieri and third baseman Marissa McDermott, both third-year varsity seniors, are tri-captains. Amanda Martinez and Camryn Hamilton are the other seniors.
“Beating Glenbard South was a huge victory because we haven’t beat them since forever,” said McDermott, All-MSC in 2016. “I think we just have to stay confident and believe in each of our players to do what they have to do.”
Top hitters include Martinez (.478 batting average, 11 runs batted in, 12 runs), Ranieri (.394, 8 RBIs), Shaw (.324, 9 RBIs, 12 runs), McDermott and sophomore Lauren Lambros (8 RBIs each), juniors Amy Kulaga (.378, home run, 7 RBIs) and Nora Dachota (.368), sophomores Kailyn Ngo (.483) and Payton Rangel (.333) and freshman Nadia Ranieri (.370).
Handling most of the pitching are Dachota (5-2, 4.36 earned-run average, 28 strikeouts in 39 innings) and junior Tori Blood (3-0, 3.91 ERA).
This is the best start for fourth-year RBHS coach Doug Schultz. New varsity assistant Emma Jarrell formerly coached the freshmen.
“We really worked on a team-first approach at the beginning of the season,” Schultz said. “We’ve had a lot of younger players that have really matured and are producing, and it’s a great mix of seniors, too. It’s a good combination of multiple things.”
RBHS tied Glenbard South 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth and won in the seventh on a game-ending, two-out single by Rangel after pinch-hitter Kulaga singled and reached third on Nadia Ranieri’s sacrifice. Dachota allowed five hits.
In the 2-0 victory over LTHS, Dachota threw a two-hitter and was 2 for 3 and Lambros and Blood had RBIs. A three-run sixth helped Blood earn the win in the first-game.
The Bulldogs also have one-run victories over Lemont (7-6 April 12) and York (4-3). They’ve scored at least 12 runs four times.
“Everyone can get a hit. There’s no one who can’t hit on our team,” McDermott said.
During last season’s 10-18 finish, Alivia Ranieri recalled a meeting about the need for team unity.
This year, Shaw speaks of team sleepovers and group chats.
“It’s just the complete opposite. It just happens automatically that we play together,” Alivia Ranieri said.
“Our positive energy really has a big impact on how we’ve been playing. I wouldn’t say it’s just one game (standing out). I think all of the games we’ve had a lot better energy on the field.”