HARWOOD HEIGHTS — The Norridge-Harwood Heights 16U softball team begins play in the Central Regional in South Bend, Indiana, on Friday. It’ll be the squad’s first time at regionals, which is one step away from the Senior League World Series in Delaware.
The team’s core consists primarily of Ridgewood players — all but Colleen Gale (Guerin) and Aaliyah Gonzalez (Trinity) play for the Rebels — and its dynamic offense carried over from the high school season to this summer. Ridgewood pounded many of the opposing pitchers it faced during the spring, and Norridge-Harwood Heights won all three of its games at the Illinois Senior League state tournament by at least 10 runs.
The team’s most significant improvement in the last calendar year has been at the plate.
“This year, we’ve worked with a hitting coach, something we’ve never done before,” Norridge-Harwood Heights manager Mike Straughn said after his squad beat Pike County 10-0 in five innings to win the state championship. “That’s the big difference from last year to this year is our hitting. We’re able to score runs. Last year, we probably would have won this game 4-0. We had our pitching, we had our defense. The hitting was not there.”
Many of the team’s hitters worked with George Bukowski, who’s an assistant coach at Resurrection, and the results have been apparent. Junior-to-be Giulia Magnelli hit .459 with seven home runs and 52 RBI during the most-recent high school season, while Sabrina Krasinski (.494, 32 RBI), Claudia Maloberti (.486, 38 RBI) and Sarah Straughn (.478) all posted gaudy numbers for Ridgewood.
Those four were the first four hitters for Norridge-Harwood Heights against Pike County on Tuesday evening, and they combined to reach base 11 times and score six runs. Maloberti’s three-run homer in the top of the first inning drove in Sarah Straughn and Krasinski and it provided a knock-out blow before Pike County even recorded an out.
Norridge-Harwood Heights will almost certainly face tougher competition at regionals, however.
“They’re going to be a lot more difficult, but I feel like we’re used to it because we play travel [with Norridge Reckless],” Krasinski said.
Mike Straughn added: “The teams there will all be better than anybody we faced this tournament. I would expect to see some teams similar to us, some teams better and some teams worse.”
While that’s the case, Norridge-Harwood Heights should be prepared for tougher competition. Ridgewood is part of the tough Metro Suburban Conference, which features quality squads like Elmwood Park and Glenbard South.
After winning its first state title, Sarah Straughn talked about re-calibrating the team’s objectives for the eight-team regional tournament.
“Our goal was to win state, but winning regionals would be even better,” she said.