By Marty Farmer
Riverside-Brookfield High School softball coach Doug Schultz stressed the importance of mental toughness to his players this season. The Bulldogs took the message to heart with a 24-4 regular-season record, highlighted by a 9-3 runner-up finish in the Metro Suburban Conference.
"I'm very pleased with the regular season," Schultz said. "Our conference schedule was much more challenging and we still finished well. I believe this experience will prepare us for the state tournament. If we don't look ahead and assume an early round win, we should do fine."
Led by Emily Noel, Ashley Lynch and Isabella Garcia (among several sweet-swinging others), the Bulldogs score runs in bunches. RBHS scored double-digit in runs in 14 games, highlighted by 20 runs on four occasions.
Nadia Ranieri, another potent hitter, also headlines the team's pitching rotation, which includes Emily Bloom, Jacqueline DMonte and Hannah Organ.
"We have grown very strong as a team," Noel said. "Our goal is to go far in the state playoffs."
RBHS is the No. 2 seed behind sectional host Marist in Class 4A. The Bulldogs faced the winner of regional host Hinsdale Central/Kelly on Tuesday, May 21 after the Landmark's press time. If the Bulldogs won, they move on to Saturday's final at 10 a.m. on May 25 at Hinsdale Central.
Shortstop Katelyn Malikowski (.333 batting average, 22 runs scored), Lily Hanafin (.390, 22 RBIs, 22 runs scored), Ava Kostecki (5-3, 2.38 ERA, 98 strikeouts in 73 innings), outfielder Josie Arriaga and catcher Payton McQueeny lead LTHS.
"We will look to get more clutch hits in the playoffs," said LTHS coach Nikki Paluch. "Our bracket looks tough, but we expect a hard battle and some great softball."
The Lions (9-14) take on host Morton in regional semifinal on Wednesday, May 22 at 4:30 p.m.
In Class 3A, rivals Fenwick and Trinity are both in the Benet Academy Sectional. The Friars and Blazers are seeded second and sixth, respectively, with fellow contenders St. Francis, Glenbard South and Benet (No. 1, 3 and 5) in the bracket.
In regional semifinal games, Trinity takes on Noble Street Charter and Fenwick faces Phoenix Military Academy. Fenwick and Trinity have to win three games apiece to set up a rematch in the Benet Sectional final on Tuesday, May 28.
The Friars feature a strong pitching combination of veterans Cassy Lee and Alyssa Stramaglia.
"We're eager for competition and we will thrive when the pressure is on," Fenwick coach Sarah James said.