Softball: Aurora Central optimistic as postseason beginsAurora Central pitcher Sarah Ryan helped the Chargers earn a comeback victory over Aurora Christian on Tuesday, Apr. 24, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 14, 2012 8:24PM
Taking a step down in class with a much better team means postseason prospects for the Aurora Central softball team are brighter this year.
Coach Jim Hallahan’s second-seeded Chargers open play Wednesday at the Plano Class 2A Regional against No. 3 seed Wheaton Academy — a team they’ve beaten twice this year in Suburban Christian Conference play — as the playoffs begin for area small schools.
“Last year we lost to IMSA in the first round of the Class 3A regional,” Hallahan said. “But in softball, I’ve always contended there are plenty of small towns that can produce great teams.”
The Chargers were moved by the IHSA because it did not apply the 1.67 multiplier to the school’s enrollment for the sport because of the program’s recent struggles as part of a new policy on classification.
“We’ve had a tremendous turnaround,” said Hallahan. “We won only five games last year and we had more errors than runs scored. Our defense has really tightened up, we’ve got great speed in the outfield and we have three or four batters who can put the ball in play.”
Leading the way for the 19-12 Chargers are a pair of senior battery mates, pitcher Sarah Ryan, who is 12-8 in the circle, and her catcher, Katie Callahan, who is hitting a team-high .413 with a .467 on-base percentage, two home runs, nine doubles and 21 RBI.
“Sarah has an ERA of 2.17 and has given up 128 hits in 132„ innings pitched,” said Hallahan. “She has 73 strikeouts, so she’s not a power pitcher, but what she does really, really well is hit her spots. And she’s got a screwball that, if it’s moving in on (righthanded) hitters’ hands, can give them lots of trouble.”
Ryan gets a lot of ground balls, especially to the left side of the infield, which is covered by freshman shortstop Gabi Alfaro and sophomore third baseman Jenny Alderman.
“Between them, they have 30 errors, which may sound like a lot,” Hallahan said, “but that’s come on more than 340 chances, which means they’re fielding over 90 percent of them. It’s a big improvement from last year.”
Alfaro, who is the only travel team player on ACC’s roster, has great speed and has settled into the leadoff spot in the lineup. She’s hitting .351 with a .450 on-base percentage and has five doubles, four triples and one home run. She’s also stolen 14 of 16 bases.
“(Alfaro) has blazing speed and tremendous pop in her bat,” said Hallahan. “When we started the season I tried to have her switch to the left side and slap to take advantage of her speed, but it got to the point where I decided I shouldn’t mess with success, so she’s gone back to the right side.”
Fifth-seeded Plano opens Monday at fourth seed Aurora Christian at 4:30 p.m. with the winner advancing to Tuesday’s semifinal against No. 1 seed Lisle.
“I don’t want to look past Wheaton Academy, because we can’t take anyone for granted and they’ve got a pretty good pitcher, too,” said Hallahan, whose team dropped a 5-0 decision to Lisle early in the season while missing two starters.
“We’ve beaten the teams we should this year and done well against teams that are equal to or better than us.”