Softball: Lockport opens season as Herald-News No 1Lockport's 10 returning players from last season include (front row, left to right) Ashley London, Tierney Bottino, (middle row, left to right) Alyssa Visvardis, Katelyn Hair, Melissa Stoch, Brianna Carney, (top row, left to right) Britni Vrba, Taylor Weissenhofer, Jessica Kubinski and Allison Foley as seen Wednesday, March 14, 2012, in Lockport. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 14, 2012 8:29PM
The 2011 season marked the first time since 2006 and only the second time since 1996 that the Joliet area had no teams advance downstate in softball. Dwight came the closest, in Class 1A, losing to host Schlarman 10-5 in the supersectional. In fact, no local Class 3A or 4A teams even advanced to the sectional finals.
But area schools, which have produced seven state champions and three runners-up since 1987, appear ready to contend again. Here’s a look at the Herald-News Preseason Top 10 (2011 records in parentheses):
1. LOCKPORT (26-11-1)
Of the 10 state final appearances for local teams, Lockport has four of them. The Porters won Class AA titles in 1997 and 2004, while finishing second in 1987 and ’90.
With 10 players back from last season’s team, which lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Sandburg on its home field in the sectional semifinal, the Porters are looking to reach those heights again.
“I expect great things from this year’s team,” coach Marissa Chovanec said. “We have a nice tight group of seniors and a talented set of juniors coming up.”
Chovanec, who has a 250-82-1 record and is entering her 10th season as Porters coach, has a large, 20-girl roster with nine seniors, nine juniors and two sophomores. Some of the key people back are shortstop Tierney Bottino, catcher Bri Carney, third baseman Allison Foley, first baseman Jessica Kubinski, designated player Melissa Stoch, center fielder Britni Vrba, pitcher Taylor Weissenhofer and junior second baseman Ashley London.
2. LINCOLN-WAY EAST (21-8)
Elizabeth Pawlicki takes over as Griffins coach. The 2000 Providence graduate welcomes back six seniors — all of whom are committed to play college ball — from last season’s team.
The key probably is pitcher Kacyee Hart, who was ace of the 2011 staff with a 16-6 record, and has committed to Western Illinois. The rest of the senior returnees are IF/OF Lauren Benda (Illinois Wesleyan), OF Jenny Gray (Augustana), IF/OF Alexis Huss (Tallahassee Community), IF/OF Nicolle Miskowicz (Lindenwood) and OF Bri Morell (Florida Gulf Coast).
Junior SS Jorgi Calombaris, entering her third season as a starter, also will help the Griffins battle for the top spot in the SouthWest Suburban Blue.
3. MINOOKA (28-8)
The Indians hope to build on an outstanding 2011, during which they won the Southwest Prairie championship with a 13-1 record.
Six starters return, led by senior IF Lindsey Fenner (.364, 7 HRs, 27 RBI), who will play college ball at Middle Tennessee State, and junior Sara Novak (.414; 13-2 pitching, 1.35 ERA, 121 K), who set a school record last season with 12 homers.
4. PLAINFIELD CENTRAL (24-9)
Olivia Scott, the 2011 Herald-News Player of the Year, has moved on to Carthage College. She was one of only three seniors on a team that finished second behind Minooka in the conference.
The Wildcats have five key players back, including junior P Kaileigh Nagle, who went 13-2 with a 1.86 ERA while batting .442. Seniors include C Cailey Baker, who led the team with a .472 average in 2011 and has signed with Missouri S&T; CF/P Morgan Vogt (.327, 10 SB), a four-year varsity player who has signed with Roosevelt University; Karly Jackson (.413, 13 SB), who will bat leadoff and has signed with Lewis University; and Rachel Egly (.304) who moves from 2B to SS this year.
5. LEMONT (26-8)
Always an area power, the Indians have four key players back from last season’s team that was 13-6 in the South Suburban Conference.
Junior Carly Jaworski will be the top pitcher. She was 7-2 last year with a 1.18 ERA and also hit .416, with eight homers and 35 RBI. Other top players are IF Carli Kavanagh (.426, 5 HRs, 38 RBI), 2B Alyssa Stube (14 RBI), and CF Alexis Valone (.344, 5 HRs, 33 RBI).
“We are looking for leadership from our four returning players,” coach Christine Traina said. “We may be young in key positions but I am very optimistic about the season.”
6. PROVIDENCE (16-19)
While the Celtics’ record slipped below .500 last season, they finished 9-9 in the tough East Suburban Catholic Conference and gave Lockport all it could handle in an opening-round regional game. They’ll move down to Class 3A for the playoffs this year.
Four key players return, including juniors Amanda Wilson, (.407; 12 pitching wins, 129 K) and 1B/OF Tara Airola (.265, 5 HRs, 23 RBI). Top seniors are P/OF Allie Strick, (.292, 27 RBI), who will pitch and play the outfield, and C/IF Ellie Bartosz (.258, 13 RBI, .981 fielding pct.), a four-year varsity player.
“We will be a young team once again; however, we return our pitching staff and that should keep us in every game,” coach Jay Biesterfeld said. “I look to see us improve dramatically as the season wears on. I do believe we will contend with the top teams in our conference once again.”
7. LINCOLN-WAY WEST (17-15)
The Warriors were impressive in their second season, and battled Joliet Catholic in the Class 3A regional final before losing 1-0 on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the eighth.
The top players back include senior SS Myranda Eckberg, who had a .575 slugging percentage and has committed to St. Joseph’s College. Among the juniors expected to contribute are OF Sarah Clark (.388, 29 runs), C/IF Kaci Krumreich (.400), and IF Sam Magruder (10 doubles, 34 RBI).
“We have seven starters returning to the team and a few younger players new to the program who will all be competing for starting positions,” coach Heather Novak said. “Sophomores Erin Miller and Morghan Dieringer both threw for us at the varsity level last year and have worked hard this offseason.”
8. PLAINFIELD EAST (17-14)
The Bengals are another up-and-coming team and look to improve on last season’s 8-6 Southwest Prairie mark.
“We have nine returning players this season and we have added a couple of new juniors from last year’s sophomore squad,” coach Chris Morris said. “We also added three freshmen to our varsity roster this year, but we do not have a single senior on the team.”
The top returnees are speedy SS Nina Maggio (.420) and P/IF Annie Molek, who batted nearly .500.
9. PEOTONE (25-5)
Coming off a school-best record and first conference title since 1978, the defending Interstate 8 South champions are looking for more.
A trio of players will lead the charge. Senior IF Alyssa Invergo brings back a .602 average with 12 homers, 52 RBI and 40 stolen bases. She has committed to Ole Miss. Junior P Danielle Liberatore, who has verbally committed to Tennessee Tech, went 12-0 with a 1.51 ERA in 102 innings, with 140 strikeouts and 28 walks. Junior IF Brittney Campione (.532, 50 hits, 38 SB) will be counted on for offense.
10. SENECA (30-9)
The Irish are coming off a school-best season, in which they went 11-5 in the Interstate 8 and advanced to a 2A sectional title game.
Junior P Nicole Pihl is back after setting the IHSA single-season home run mark with 19, while adding 18 doubles, 79 RBI and a .530 average. As a pitcher, she went 28-9 with a 2.19 ERA. She has verbally committed to DePaul.
Other Irish to watch are C Miranda Hougas (.380, 20 extra-base hits, 33 RBI), CF Madi Shanks (413, 22 SB) and sophomore RF/3B Sarah Radtke (.330).