Softball

Softball: McHenry County becoming recruiting hotbed for Big Ten

McHenry County becoming hotbed for softball scouts

GLEN ELLYN  – Hampshire's Delaney Rummell knew she had to make something happen.

Rummell plays for the Illinois Chill 16U travel softball program during the summer, and on an overcast afternoon Thursday, she found herself leading off the bottom of the seventh inning against Miami (Ohio) commit Taylor Turner and the Michigan Finesse 16U squad in pool play at the Demarini Invitational.

It's one of the premiere tournaments in the country. This year, it included teams from 17 states.

Minutes earlier, Rummell and her teammates were on cruise control, holding a 1-0 lead, and also were in the midst of maintaining a no-hitter with two outs to go against the Finesse. But as Rummell stepped to the plate, that lead – and the no-hitter – were gone, as the Chill trailed, 2-1, in their final at-bat.

Rummell worked the count even after falling behind 1-2 and took a deep breath before stepping back in the batter's box. She then ripped a liner into the left-center field gap. Rummell rounded first, found another gear as she headed for second and slid inches under a swipe-tag for a double.

The next batter, Richmond-Burton's Peyton Bannon, advanced Rummell to third on a grounder to the right side. Rummell later scored on a sacrifice fly, allowing the Chill to escape with a 2-2 tie.

After the game, Bannon and Rummell exchanged congratulations with two other teammates, Marian Central's Maggie Finnegan, and Prairie Ridge's Emmie Farnam. Although it may have seemed like a routine moment, it wasn't.

All four girls are verbally committed to play for Big Ten programs when they graduate high school. Rummell will attend Illinois. Bannon is headed to Wisconsin. Farnam has committed to Northwestern, and Finnegan has agreed to play for Penn State.

"Ten years ago, having even one girl from McHenry County commit to a Big Ten program was almost unheard of," Chill 16U coach and tourney co-director Gerry Quinn said. "So to have four on the same travel team is something special."

Finnegan committed first, then Rummell, followed by Farnam. Those three will be seniors this fall. Bannon, meanwhile, will be a junior, and committed in April.

Finnegan talked about how the coaches made her "feel right at home" when she visited Penn State. Rummell and Bannon both said they knew Illinois and Wisconsin, respectively, were the schools for them after they stepped foot on those campuses. And Farnam joked about her decision to stay close to home.

"Honestly, I would've loved to get as far away as possible," Farnam said with a laugh. "But there was no way I could say no to the chance to go to one of the most prestigious academic schools in the nation, while also fulfilling my softball dreams. I would've been a fool to pass that up." 

The girls also are fresh off a fifth-place finish out of 56 teams at the Boulder IDT Tournament in Colorado, which was held the final week of June.

"That showed we can compete with anyone in the country," Rummell said. "That tournament, and this one, features the best of the best nationally. And here, it's one of the rare times we play 18U teams, and not just teams in our own age bracket."

"Playing in the past, and now, against girls two or three years older at this tourney has helped show me where the bar is set at," Finnegan added. "It's not like high school where the talent is thinned out. The teams we face here can, and will, chew you up and spit you out."

Speaking of high school, Bannon bashfully smiled when recalling her Richmond-Burton team belting five homers, yet losing, 13-11, in a May sectional semifinal game to Prairie Ridge and Farnam.

"That was a crazy, crazy day," Bannon said. "We don't hold grudges or anything like that. We're all teammates for now, and all working toward refining our skills. And besides, there's always next season."

It then dawned on Farnam what the future may hold, as if a light bulb went on in her mind.

"What's wild is, one day, all four of us will be playing against each other in the Big Ten," Farnam said. "Picturing that kind of gives me chills. That's so, so cool."

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