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Inside Prep Softball

Athlete of the Week: Kirsten Stevens, Prairie Ridge, sr., P

Stevens is 4-1 this season, her only loss coming in a 2-1 eight-inning nonconference game against Fremd. In five games, Stevens has struck out 59 batters and walked five while scattering just 13 hits. She’s also hit well, with four total doubles in five games.

Noteworthy:

Youth is rolling: Crystal Lake South is young, but the Gators are mighty.

South coach Scott Busam’s starting lineup consists almost entirely of sophomores, many of whom still are adjusting to varsity pitching. Yet the Gators are undefeated, 7-0, and Busam attributes it to their dedication to becoming smarter, better ball players every time they step on the field.

“There are still significant learning curves, and with Coach [Mark] Hardie out of the mix, it’s a lot to do with new, young coaching staff, but everyone has been positive and hard-working,” Busam said. “I think what impresses me most about the team is their overall attitude. They hustle, they play hard, they ask questions and, for the most part, they learn from their mistakes.”

Sophomore pitcher Hailee Massie has been a catalyst for the Gators’ success. Her calm nature in the circle indicates a maturity beyond her years and it continues to impress Busam.

“I get the sense that everyone on the team loves her,” he said. “She is a tireless worker who knows her strengths and weaknesses. I think one of her best attributes is her ability to mask her emotions. She gets excited, upset, nervous, but the focused look never changes, regardless of what’s going on internally.”

Finding its bats: McHenry has ripped off five straight wins thanks to timely hitting and recent adjustments. The Warriors have averaged 9.4 runs during the streak and have had particular offensive contributions from Dana Walsh (.379), Rachel Ford (.364), Ashley Clingingsmith (.333), Alex Martens (.333), Kelsea Cichocki (.300), Alexa McClaughry (.280), Kristin Koepke (.269) and Carly Mattson (.263).

“We have face some teams that have struggled on the mound, and some that have rock-solid pitching,” DiFrancesca said. “The jury still is out as to the consistency of the bats, but the trend is favorable.”

Koepke also is enjoying a great defensive start. The sophomore pitcher has a 1.03 ERA with 39 strikeouts in six games.

Filling roles: It is an understatement to say Marengo sophomore right-fielder Veronica Ruelius has big shoes to fill, since she replaces four-year starter and 2012 Northwest Herald Co-Player of the Year Reed Karsten. But Ruelius is putting her own mark on the position.

Ruelius has played 11 error-free games and went 8 for 14 last week with five RBIs. Karsten batted an absurd .546 last year, so it was imperative to get production from that position again. Dwain Nance has been pleased to see Ruelius do the job.

Can’t miss games:

CL South at Huntley, 4:30 p.m. Friday

The Red Raiders just dropped their first game of the season on Tuesday, while South will enter this Fox Valley Conference Valley Division opener undefeated.

Cary-Grove at Fremd, 11 a.m. Saturday

The Trojans will face one of their toughest non-conference opponents to date.

Burlington Central at Harvard, 4:30 p.m. Tuesday

The Rockets could give the Hornets problems in this Big Northern Conference East Division matchup.

-Maureen Lynch

sportsdesk@nwherald.com

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