Lady Astros coming of age
Whether Shepard is sporting a roster full of seasoned veterans or growing underclassmen, coach Kelsey Clifford prefers to have her team stay active.
The Lady Astros had plenty of opportunities to play during a week marked by relatively pleasant weather and came away with a 4-2 record. The losses came by just one and three runs.
Shepard started the week by coming up just short of Lemont, 6-5, in a South Suburban Conference crossover game. However, the Lady Astros bounced back with a 5-2 SSC Red win over Oak Lawn on Tuesday and a conference crossover victory over Bremen on Thursday.
After battling Oak Forest hard in a 10-7 crossover loss on Friday, Shepard (5-3) swept a doubleheader from Wheaton Academy, 10-2 and 19-7, one day later.
“Our schedule has been so flipped around, trying to get games in,” Clifford said. “Saturday’s contests were games that we picked up because [other] games were bumped. We asked our athletic director to try to get us some games.
“My coaching philosophy is I’d rather we play games to see our flexibility early on in the season and to see what we can do. We’ve only played eight games so far, so this is still a young season.”
And not only is it a young season, but Clifford also said the Lady Astros are a young team after six seniors from 2013 graduated. Five of those departed athletes are playing college softball this season.
“We’re still experimenting with talent that we have because we’re such a young team,” Clifford said. “This is definitely a rebuilding year for us. We have a very large amount of talent, just an unmined group of talent that is getting plenty of opportunities to play.”
Anna Smagacz’s RBI single in the top of the seventh for visiting Lemont (4-2, 1-2) boosted it past Shepard. Melissa Kelly had two runs and an RBI to pace the Lady Astros.
“Lemont was a tough loss because we had the lead the whole game and, unfortunately, Lemont came through in the bottom of the seventh,” Clifford said. “They did their job and executed — hitting a base hit right up the middle — and [they] were able to score.”
The Lady Astros bounced back against Oak Lawn the next day, as Heather O’Kelley went 5-for-5 with two runs to key the visitors. Reily McTeague had two hits for the Lady Spartans and drove in both of their runs.
Jalyn Stepney hit two homers and totaled five RBI to propel Shepard against Bremen. The Lady Astros scored seven times over the first three innings to take command and make life easier for pitcher Kelly, who tossed a five-hitter.
Alyssa DeChene also went deep with a two-run shot for Shepard, which piled up five more runs in the third to set up its slaughter-rule triumph. Breanna Graffeo (RBI double) and Skylor Hilger (RBI single) delivered other clutch hits on the Lady Astros’ behalf.
“The wins over Oak Lawn and Bremen were good conference wins,” Clifford said. “Our offense was really in sync against Bremen.”
Stepney’s bases-clearing double for was a highlight for Shepard versus Oak Forest, but the defining moment was the Lady Bengals’ ability to get out of a jam when the Lady Astros were threatening in the bottom of the seventh. Shepard had runners on first and second with no outs, but a rare triple play doomed the comeback bid.
“We had the home-field advantage with runners on first and second base and a senior at the plate — you couldn’t ask for more,” Clifford said. “Oak Forest made a freak play from their shortstop going to the right side. She caught a line drive that we all thought was on the ground and was able to turn that into the triple play.
“It was disgusting. However, the Oak Forest coaches and I are all good friends, so it’s nice to play against your buddies and have it be a game of such equivalent competition. Who’s going to come out on top?
“It was a tough loss, but it was against a good team. There was just nothing else we could have done.”
Clifford said the contest, from a quality standpoint, was memorable.
“The Oak Forest game was one of the top softball games I’ve seen in a very long time,” she said. “Both teams were evenly matched.
“You have to give credit to Oak Forest — they have sticks. We recognized that and we were smart on our pitch selection and where to throw. It just wasn’t enough, but it was a very well-played and well coached game on both sides.”
In the sweep over Wheaton, Stepney had another monster day, going 5-for-8, with three of those hits clearing the fence to raise her homer total to six. She also finished the day with eight RBI and seven runs scored.
All three of Stepney’s long balls were launched in Game 2, part of a 4-for-4 effort in that contest. She knocked in six of runs in all. Sarah Wedster added seven RBI on the day for the Lady Astros.
“It was a long ride to Wheaton,” Clifford said. “We didn’t know where we were going, but it turned out to be a great day.
“Jayla’s making a big impact and has a lot of people talking in the area. She’s also drawn five intentional walks already. It always cracks me up because she doesn’t quite understand that part of the game yet, [but] you have to take it as a compliment.”
Shepard will continue to stay busy this week, as it was scheduled for games against Hillcrest, Argo, Richards and Kankakee.
“Our weeks are packed,” Clifford said. “Practice and learning times are at our games, and we’re making the best of that.”
The Lady RedHawks went unbeaten in four games last week, although one with Trinity ended in a 4-4 stalemate. That Monday contest was followed by Marist wins over Nazareth Academy (11-2) on Tuesday, Lyons Township (7-1) on Thursday and Minooka (10-6) on Saturday.
Hayley Franks was the Lady RedHawks’ top gun in their 12-inning tie with Trinity as she went 4-for-6. Brooke Wilson was right behind her with a three-hit effort, and Franks, Amanda McIlhany and Brooke Wyderski each drove in a run.
Wyderski (triple, two RBI, two runs) joined Wilson (one RBI, one run), Madison Naujokas (triple, one run) and Bella Wilkinson (double, one run) at the two-hit plateau in Marist’s Tuesday conquest of the Lady Roadrunners. The win, Marist’s second in as many East Suburban Catholic Conference games this season, was credited to pitcher Zariya Gonzalez, who struck out five while delivering a route-going performance.
Another big day from Wyderski (3-for-4, three RBI) propelled the Lady RedHawks to their victory over Lyons Township. Wilkinson also had an RBI, while two other Marist runs resulted from Lady Lions errors.
Gonzalez tossed a four-hitter for the Lady RedHawks.
A busy week concluded with Marist (8-3-1) topping Minooka behind the offensive leadership of Alexis Rogers (3-for-4, three RBI) and Wilson (two hits, including a homer, two RBI).
Even more active than Marist were the Lady Mustangs, who took the field six times and emerged with a break-even ledger for the week.
Evergreen Park picked up wins over TF North (13-3), Eisenhower (15-0) and Riverside-Brookfield (9-0 in Game 1 of a Saturday doubleheader. The Lady Bulldogs earned a split by capturing the second game 13-9. Also pinning losses on the Lady Mustangs last week were TF South (4-2) and Richards (15-5).
The week got underway with Evergreen’s rout of the Lady Meteors in a South Suburban Conference crossover contest on Monday. Bethany Salazar and Jenna Haase both had three hits for the Lady Mustangs, with one of the former’s being a home run. Together, the two players accounted for five RBI.
Carolyn Roberts’ homer and three RBI were Evergreen’s catalysts in its Tuesday romp past the Lady Cardinals in an SSC Red encounter. Maddie Bojacek stopped Eisenhower on two hits and whiffed nine to gain the pitching victory.
Salazar stepped to the forefront again on Saturday, as her 4-for-4 showing was instrumental in the Lady Mustangs’ securing of their triumph over R-B. Salazar, who also provided three runs and two RBI, was backed by Karly Rickert, who finished Game 1 with three hits and three RBI.
After getting bounced 10-0 by Providence Catholic last Monday, the Mighty Macs put Stagg and Regina through similar misery on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively. Both teams were shutout victims, the Lady Chargers by an 8-0 count and Regina by an 11-0 score.
Mother McAuley was torched for 16 hits in its loss. The Lady Celtics’ Morgan Greenwood accounted for four of those in as many at-bats, with two doubles, two RBI and two runs also being part of her production.
The Macs’ pitching improved considerably after that. Dara Sanders limited Stagg to three hits and struck out 11, while Amy Balich and Alex Brown supported her with round-trippers. Balich’s three-run blast was part of a 2-for-4 exhibition for her at the plate, while Brown’s deep ball brought in a pair of runs.
Kayla Frain, Lexi Minet and Brianna Serritella collected the Lady Chargers’ hits off Sanders.
Sanders put her batting on display versus Regina as she went 2-for-3 with three RBI and two runs. Jessica Alberts fired a one-hitter and fanned 11 while pitching a complete game for McAuley (6-3, 3-0 GCAC).
Sandwiching the Lady Chargers’ meeting with Mother McAuley were two SouthWest Suburban Conference crossover games, which Stagg (1-5) split. It dropped a 3-1 verdict to Lincoln-Way North on Tuesday, but roared back to bury Thornridge 12-0 on Thursday.
Lexi Minet struck out 11 Lady Falcons in her team’s first win of the season and she was also the Lady Chargers’ offensive headliner with two hits and two RBI. Stephanie Lorenz knocked in Stagg’s only run against the Lady Phoenix.
In addition to their blasting of Evergreen Park, the Lady Bulldogs also notched wins over Bremen (8-1) and Lyons Township (4-2) to improve their season ledger to 8-3.
Emily Wetzel socked a three-run homer for Richards against the Lady Mustangs, part of a two-hit, four-RBI day for her. Also heard from was Molly Pohrebney, who went 3-for-3 with two RBI on the Lady Bulldogs’ behalf.
Wetzel went deep again in Richards’ triumph over Lyons. Along with her two-run clout. The Lady Bulldogs benefited from winning pitcher Sara Kiziak’s two-RBI double.
Kiziak struck out eight while throwing a complete game against Bremen and Hailey Czerwinski played a starring role at the plate with two hits and three RBI.
Thornton was easy pickings for the Lady Eagles, but that 13-1 win represented Sandburg’s only success last week.. Both Lincoln-Way West (6-0) and Andrew (6-1) bested the Lady Eagles in SWSC crossover affairs.
Lauren Schultz was Sandburg’s ringleader versus the Lady Wildcats as she went 4-for-4 with three RBI and three runs. In the circle, Maddie Poole pitched a one-hitter and fanned five.
Sarah Herold produced the Lady Eagles’ only two hits against the Lady Warriors, but also notable was the relief pitching of Caroline Kuzel, who whiffed four and did not allow any runs.
Katie Krzus homered for Sandburg (7-4) versus the Lady Thunderbolts.
Besides their loss to Shepard, the Lady Spartans (1-4, 1-2) also dropped an 8-6 SSC Red decision last Thursday to Reavis.
QUEEN OF PEACE
The Pride dropped decisions to Regina (3-2) and Lyons Township (9-3) last Thursday and Friday, respectively.
Jasmine Escobedo and Daniella Jimenez posted RBI for host Queen of Peace (1-4, 0-3) in the GCAC Red contest against Regina. Lindsay Cudecki connected on a two-run single for the Pride (1-5) versus the Lady Lions.
The Screeching Eagles dropped a 12-10 decision to Wheaton Academy on Thursday despite a two-run homer by Terri Dearth and a solo shot from Sabrina Miller.
Mt. Assisi (2-5) was ahead 7-4 after the second inning, but was done in by Wheaton’s six-run explosion in the next frame.
The Lady Knights prevailed 10-0 over Walther Christian Academy on Saturday behind Davina Gutierrez’s no-hitter and Abbie Bulthuis’ offensive performance.
Gutierrez struck out six, while Bulthuis scored four times and stole three bases to help Chicago Christian earn its first victory after suffering five losses to open the season.