By Marty Farmer
Although he's never discussed hitting with Riverside-Brookfield High School catcher Emily Noel, Chicago rapper Polo G deserves a shout-out for the latter's prowess at the plate this season.
Polo G's "Pop Out" is Noel's walk-up song for each at-bat. The musical selection has worked well for the hard-hitting junior who has a .484 batting average, nine home runs, 36 RBIs, .541 on-base percentage and .984 slugging percentage.
"Each of us has our own walk-up song," said Noel, a Riverside resident. "The Polo G song really helps and makes me feel confident. Before I get in the batter's box, I tell myself, 'Emily you're good at softball, so be confident.' Then, I'm just thinking about getting base hits and swinging at my pitch and not any others."
The combination of Noel's approach and talent makes her arguably the best hitter on a team loaded with offensive difference-makers like Nadia Ranieri, Ashley Lynch, Isabella Garcia, Abigail Favela and Kailyn Ngo.
"I'll always remember these RB teams because we have such great chemistry," Noel said. "We have grown very strong as a team and our goal is to go far in the state playoffs. Personally, I'm having a great season and have learned so much from this team."
Defensively, Noel is also flourishing as the latest backstop star for the Bulldogs following in the footsteps of former standout catchers Cameron Shaw and Lana Herrmann. Shaw, who graduated in 2017, served as mentor for Noel.
"Cameron was always there for me and made me feel very welcomed on the team," Noel said. "Whenever I was catching, she would always be there to cheer me on and help me if I was making mistakes. There's a very strong connection between us."
Noel also credits head coach Doug Schultz for improving not only her but the team's mindset this season.
"This year we are really focusing on our mental approach to the game, which was a problem for us in the past," Noel said. "We talk about how we need to be confident going into every at-bat and how we can't let one bad play affect us."
In her third year on varsity, Noel is having her best season in terms of not only stats but intangibles.
Noel provides leadership and handles the Bulldogs' pitching staff of Ranieri, Emily Bloom, Jacqueline DiMonte and Hannah Organ.
"Our assistant coach [Emma] Jarrell, her dad [Paul Jarrell] is the one that calls the pitches," Noel said. "We talk a lot and communicate with each other. If he calls a pitch and I think it should be different, he lets me call it. The pitchers communicate with him as well so we are all on the same page."
Ranieri added: "Emily is a player who rises up when we need her most. Every time we are down, she has clutch hitting and blocking behind the plate. I've pitched to Emily for almost three years now and she understands how to keep my confidence up and my frustration low."
While Noel's focus is on this season, she hopes to play softball at the next level. During the offseason, she plays for the Orland Park Sparks.
"I would like to play college softball," she said. "Right now, one of the schools I'm talking with is Detroit Mercy, which is a very nice Division I school in Michigan."
Regardless of what the future holds, Noel is savoring life as a sweet-swinging catcher on one of the area's most explosive teams. The Bulldogs (18-3) have scored double-digit runs in 11 games, highlighted by four games of 20 runs. While cliché sports wisdom suggests defense wins championships, scoring runs at will goes a long way, too.
"Emily has meant a great deal to our current success," Schultz said. "Emily is an all- state caliber catcher which gives our pitchers an added boost of confidence when they are pitching.
"Teams know Emily and the strength of her arm," he added. "No one even attempts to steal on her anymore. Emily's ability to hit for average and power is amazing. There isn't a soft spot in the strike zone that she can't hit."
RBHS has notched several impressive wins over well regarded opponents like Oak Park and River Forest, York, Lyons Township and Nazareth Academy.
"We really have taken it game by game and try not to think about the big games," Noel said. "Once we get to the big games, we hit them with confidence and believe we can win."
The Bulldogs' 9-5 win over OPRF on April 3 was the signature win of the season.
"OPRF won two state titles in a row [2016, 2017], but we really thought we could beat them and we did," Noel said. "Since I was a freshman if we beat OPRF, Coach Jarrell promised us she would jump off the diving board into the pool fully clothed. She did that last week, which is one of my favorite memories this season."