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After last year's regional final appearance, Oswego East softball ready for more

by Kristin Sharp


In 2013, a group of sophomores and juniors took the Oswego East softball program to a new level as the Wolves played in their first regional championship game.

Now, under second-year head coach Laura Nussle, seven starters are back in the lineup and hungry for that postseason plaque that eluded them last spring.

"We have the goal of hopefully capitalizing on a regional championship this year and we're hosting sectionals, so we've been talking about going one step further this year," Nussle said.

Oswego East comes back from an 18-13 overall record and graduated four seniors from that team, including four-year starting shortstop Brittany Warnecke, now playing at Texas Tech, and second baseman Melissa Griffin, who is currently playing at Cornell College.

Nussle will look to junior Jessie Ippolito, who started last year in the outfield until an injury kept her out of the lineup through the second half of the schedule, as well as senior Shannon Hale and junior Emily Thorson. Hale replaced Ippolito through the second half of the year and was the Wolves' No. 2 batter in the lineup.

"We're looking for anyone who can fill those middle spots," Nussle said. "Ippolito was a backup shortstop last year and she has some great skills to fill that position. We have Shannon Hale who can also fill in a second base position, and we have Emily Thorson who is new this year to varsity. All three of those girls are going to bring some depth to the middle infield. They've got wonderful arms and they've got a quick release and some nice lateral movement as well that's going to bring some success to that position.

"You have that nice camaraderie between Warnecke and Griffin last year, but I think they're going to do a nice job filling those roles."

Senior Julia Johnson returns to third base for the fourth season and junior Rachel Vander Wagen is back at first base in her third varsity season.

"We're looking for those two to fill the corners again and they're going to do great things for us this year," Nussle said.

The combination of senior pitcher Alex Wagner and senior catcher Gretchen Gaertner remains in tact for the third straight year as well. Wagner's return has been slow and steady after recovering from a hip injury that dated back to the fall and kept her off the basketball court this past winter. Wagner threw over 143 innings last spring with a 4.39 ERA.

"(Wagner's) rehabbing and on a great path for recovery. We're looking for her to come back to that spot. She's doing partial things right now," Wagner said. "She's on her way and hopefully mid-April she'll be throwing like she did at the end of last season."

Nussle will also utilize junior pitcher Kaelan O'Reilly, who returns after going 74 innings with a 4.14 ERA.

"She's done a great job in the offseason," Nussle said. "She's looking fantastic. She's got great movement on her pitch and she's going to be a good leader out there as well."

Senior Tiffani Palmatier returns to the outfield after earning Southwest Prairie All-Conference honors last season. She batted .390 with 22 RBIs, three home runs and 18 runs scored, along with senior outfielder Jordyn Klingbeil, who hit .342 as the leadoff hitter with 23 runs scored and three home runs.

Junior Riley Schweig could also see time catching and in the outfield along while freshman outfielder Shannon Gaul, senior infielder/outfielder Jenna Heiser and senior outfielder Collette Kamberis will add depth to the roster.

"We're all really excited to get started this season. Since we have so many returning players and seniors, it's going to be really interesting to see how far we can get," Klingbeil said.

In addition to the solid bats of Palmatier and Klingbeil, Vander Wagen batted .346 and Gaertner hit .276 with 22 RBIs. Nussle once again believes the team's offense will be high-powered, after hitting .322 as a team last spring with 22 home runs.

"We see their strength in their bats; we see it in the cages. You're still going to see an offensive threat from us, and power," Nussle said. "We've seen growth from them and maturity. We had a couple sophomores that are now juniors and the juniors are now seniors and you can see their experience and leadership. They know they game and they're fluid together and we're just building on that now. We're hoping we're just going to be that much stronger."

Despite the lingering winter weather conditions in March, neither the coach or practices are concerned with the delayed outdoor practices. The season is scheduled to begin March 26 with a home doubleheader against Joliet Central, with another home doubleheader on March 29 against East Aurora.

"The weather last year kind of helped us because our first game coming out after working upstairs, we hit like nobody's business. That helped us. I think we might have that same luck this year," Johnson said.

Other early non-conference opponents include Elgin, West Chicago and West Aurora, with SPC play beginning on April 8 at home against Plainfield East. Oswego East will see Class 4A defending state champion Minooka on the road on April 29. The Wolves finished 6-8 in the league last year, good enough for eighth place.

"I never realized how tough our conference really is with softball. We had four teams make regional championship appearances," Nussle said. "Planfield Central is always tough, Plainfield South and Minooka was a state championship team and we actually beat Minooka last year. Looking at this year, it's still going to be tough, but we're going to try to go top four. We're going to take every game as it comes and battle it that way, and then count our successes."

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