Tony Baranek’s softball notebook

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Shepard continues to climb the ladder of softball respectability.

The Astros finished the regular season at 22-8 under third-year coach Kelsey Clifford. It was a marked improvement from 2012, when they were 18-15, and a huge step up from the 10-11 showing in Clifford’s first year.

Many of the seniors also played for Clifford when she was the freshman coach in 2010.

“They’ve come through with just wanting to change the expectations out there of us,” Clifford said. “This is my first group I’ve had since they were freshmen, and we’ve been able to change the mentality to work with them.

“This really wasn’t a surprise to me. We wanted to be more of a threat to teams, which I think we definitely accomplished. We are not to be taken lightly anymore.”

The junior pitching combination of Melissa Kelly and Stephanie Brand has opened some wide eyes throughout the South Suburban Conference. Brand went into the week at 12-4, with 52 strikeouts in 112 innings, while Kelly was 10-4 with a 3.17 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 86 innings.

“I’ve had a variety of people ask me, ‘Who is your top pitcher?’ I can’t necessarily say that there is a top,” Clifford said. “They’re back to back to each other, quite the duo. We just pretty much run a pitching rotation.”

Offensively, Shepard has been led by the foursome of senior Dominique Tanchez (.500, 6 HRs, 34 RBI), Kelly (.490, 31 RBI), senior Franchesca Graffeo (.490, 37 RBI) and sophomore Breanna Graffeo (.458, 27 RBI).

“Dominique has been our biggest surprise,” Clifford said of Tanchez, who transferred as a sophomore from Eisenhower. “She batted .222 last year, but we just worked in the offseason and she took time to go to some camps, and she’s really improved.”

Knocking ’em in

Lincoln-Way East’s Jorgi Calombaris had a monster week for the Griffins, going 6-for-11 with a triple, two homers and nine RBI. In Friday’s 13-1 victory over Oswego, she was 2-for-3 with a three-run triple and a three-run homer.

“Jorgi worked very hard this past year on her swing and the adjustments have shown,” coach Elizabeth Pawlicki said. “She is a smart hitter who waits for her pitch and consistently puts the ball in play and makes the defense make a play.”

“As we head into the postseason Jorgi’s bat will be key in scoring runs for us.”

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