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Softball notes: Sophomores Ava Gusel, Maya Rodriguez make for a bright future at Downers Grove North

Ava Gusel and Maya Rodriguez both received valuable experience starting as freshmen last spring during a down season by Downers Grove North’s standards.

Both are sisters of Trojans’ stars of the past.

Both are a big reason for a bright future in Downers Grove.

Gusel and Rodriguez are two of seven sophomores on varsity in a talented Downers Grove North sophomore class. The Trojans are coming off a 10-11 season in an unusual 2021 in which West Suburban Conference schools only played league opponents because of pandemic restrictions.

“It definitely taught me to be a stronger and more aggressive pitcher,” said Gusel, who handled most of Downers North’s pitching duties last year and is the Trojans’ ace. “Being a freshman, playing 17 and 18-year-old girls, it helps me to work harder, to improve, to show how much of a good pitcher I am. I have a stronger, more confident personality after starting as a freshman.”

Gusel, whose older sister Audrey was part of three Downers North regional champs and is now pitching at Holy Cross, is indeed bigger and stronger – and it shows.

She had a growth spurt from 5-foot-4 to 5-7, started working out more and now hits 65 mph with her fastest pitch and is consistently at 62-63. She was more in the 58-59 range as a freshman.

“Last year her numbers may have not jumped off the page, but she was a freshman. She took some bumps and bruises but in the long run it makes you better,” Downers North coach Eric Landschoot said. “She is throwing harder, hits her spots, throws multiple pitches and she is always looking to improve, filming herself, working with coaches on non-throwing days. She definitely has her eyes on the prize.”

Landschoot projects Gusel as one of the best, if not the best pitcher in the West Suburban this spring. He’s just as high on Rodriguez, who hit .353 with a .421 on-base percentage as a freshman.

“I contend you could put Maya on a D-1 infield right now,” Landschoot said. “She made some plays last year as a freshman that in my years of coaching I’ve only seen a handful of times.”

In a perfect world Rodriguez would play exclusively third base, but she’s also the best catcher in the program so she likely will split time between the positions.

“It’s a little stressful being behind the plate. It’s not my primary position,” Rodriguez said. “I just look at it, whatever I need to be, wherever coach decides, it’s good for me. I’ll help any way possible.”

Rodriguez’s older sister, Savannah, was a second team All-Stater as a senior, and is now a senior at Western Illinois. She’s Maya’s inspiration and a motivator.

“Seeing her and how good she was here pushes me to be better,” Rodriguez said. “She made a name for herself. It pushes me to make a name for myself. It’s really exciting to see the amount of young talent we have. We have the potential to go far the next few years.”

Fast start for Fenwick’s Talia Lorenzo

Fenwick, which won just three games in 2021, was off to a 5-0 start.

And Talia Lorenzo is a huge reason why.

The Friars’ junior ace already has recorded a perfect game and no-hitter in the season’s first three weeks. She struck out 12 with two walks the lone blemishes in a 10-0, five-inning win over New Trier on March 21. Lorenzo fanned 13 batters in a 10-0, five-inning perfect game against DePaul Prep on March 29.

“She has done a great job of hitting spots and she picked up a few miles per hour with her velocity,” first-year Fenwick coach Brian Hoffman said. “That combined with just she’s extremely composed. She is very composed in the circle. Pitch call and going with it, throws mainly strikes.”

Lorenzo recorded 177 strikeouts last season, but she was perhaps a bit over-pitched. At the end of the season she found out she had a stress fracture in her foot. Lorenzo has since recovered from her injury and is on top of her game.

Hoffman hopes to remove some of the burden from Lorenzo’s plate with a deeper pitching staff. Kailey Janda, one of five freshmen on Fenwick’s varsity, looks like a solid No. 2. Sophomore Sophie Stone recently no-hit Walther Christian.

Hoffman is high on another freshman, Caity Barganski, who is catching for the Friars.

“She does a phenomenal job of framing pitches and working with our pitching staff, making them all better,” Hoffman said. “It’s nice knowing you have two aces going into doubleheaders.”

Hinsdale South’s fluid lineup

A “crazy spring” with multiple injuries and a few spring break trips thrown in has required Hinsdale South to be quite flexible with its lineup construction.

The Hornets have rolled with the punches.

When Hinsdale South’s regular shortstop couldn’t play Monday because of a sore arm, All-State center fielder Nikki Berger moved from outfield to shortstop. Stephanie Rochowicz, the Hornets’ starting all-conference third baseman last year, has stepped in as the team’s catcher this spring and done an exemplary job handling two different pitchers, a lefty and righty. Amber Fedinec, who usually plays first base, played left field the other day and made two nice catches.

“I would call every player on my team a utility player,” Hinsdale South coach Shannon Fuller said. “They are adapting and evolving. We are competing through injuries and doing a quality job stepping up.”

Berger had played some third base in travel ball before, and Fuller said she is the kind of player who will play wherever is needed.

Whether she continues to put on a shortstop’s glove more than the short-term or if Hinsdale South’s other changes stick depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is health.

“We are day to day, positions are changing, starters are changing. We are basically playing Moneyball,” Fuller said. “Whoever gets on base, they will lead off. I don’t care if it’s a walk, a hit or an error.”

Swinging for a cause

The Hinsdale South and Lyons softball teams are teaming up Saturday for a hit-a-thon fundraiser. All money raised will go toward the Karen Dove Cabral Foundation, which provides financial assistance to financially challenged young women with breast cancer.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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