Lyons Township High School softball players Emily Joseph and Ava Paganis first sparked the “twin home run flame” last season.
“Whenever she hit a home run, I’d hit one — or vice versa. It’s super cool,” Paganis said.
As fourth-year varsity seniors, they, Lily Hanafin and Anna Bryant have the Lions off to a fiery 10-0 start and 3-0 in the West Suburban Conference’s Silver Division after beating St. Ignatius 4-1 on April 23 and Proviso West 23-3 on April 25.
The Lions seek their first regional crown since 2017, first sectional since 2004 and first downstate trip since 1990. They lost last year’s regional final to Oak Park and River Forest after sweeping the regular-season meetings.
“I think we can do really well,” Hanafin said. “We have a really strong offense and defense. Our goal should be to make it to state, obviously. I think we can just keep winning and doing our best.”
Pitcher/first baseman Hanafin, third baseman Joseph, shortstop Paganis and first baseman Bryant form the core of the infield. Paganis (Bryant University) and Hanafin (George Washington) will play Division I college softball.
In 2021, Joseph, Hanafin and junior catcher Tess Meyer earned All-WSC Silver honors. Paganis and Bryant were honorable mention.
This season, Joseph (.429, 4 HR, 13 RBIs, 17 runs) and Paganis (.424, 2 HR, 13 RBIs, 15 runs) have continued their power package. Paganis hit a three-run homer and Hanafin struck out 15 against St. Ignatius.
“They ultimately have been the foundation of our success over the last four years,” LTHS coach Nicole Paluch said. “I feel the way they have bonded as teammates has helped our team to become very close knit.”
Paganis, Joseph and Hanafin have been varsity starters since day one.
Paganis moved from second base to shortstop in 2020. Joseph always has been at third base after no previous game experience.
“I was completely shocked. I didn’t think I was good enough to make [varsity]. I was nervous, very nervous,” Joseph said. “Freshman Emily would be very proud of senior Emily. I had a hard problem throwing to first base. Now it’s easy peasy. I’m really more relaxed and believe in myself now.”
With the help of welcoming upperclassmen, Hanafin and Paganis agreed that freshman nervousness evolved into confidence and leadership.
“We kind of knew each other but it was nice to have the three of us going in so we kind of made our little bond,” Hanafin said. “From freshman year, I’ve definitely calmed down more. I’m not getting so in my head anymore. I’m just able to use the skills and foundation to pitch to my full capabilities.”
Bryant is recovering from ACL surgery on her right knee, injured during the second girls basketball game last fall. Bryant continues attending practices and games and provides team updates on GameChanger and Instagram.
Bryant joined varsity late in the 2019 regular season. In her first varsity at-bat, Bryant homered off York’s Lauren Derkowski, now playing at Michigan.
“It was an unreal experience and I felt like I was dreaming. In the moment I couldn’t even remember what had happened,” Bryant said. “Honestly the best night of my softball career probably.”
Joseph’s 2021 two-run homer against OPRF at home remains her biggest highlight. That, and a Paganis homer, helped the Lions rally for a 5-3 victory.
“It was the best thing in the world because LTTV was there and I got to watch it after. We were just feeding off each other’s energy,” Joseph said.
“We played, I think, the best defense in our entire lives,” Paganis said. “Our team chemistry is super amazing so if one person steps up, everyone steps up and follows. That’s what I strive to do when we play.”