Willowbrook coach Rachel Karos looked forward to Sonia Ruchala’s arrival in her softball program for a long while. She had good reason.
Ruchala’s older sister, Courtney, previously played for Karos. Sonia Ruchala was a regular at Willowbrook’s youth camps growing up. She stood out for her hard work and attention to detail.
“You can tell this is her passion,” Karos said. “I got to coach her in freshman volleyball. She is strong. She can probably hit the ball across the field house for volleyball.”
Ruchala hasn’t disappointed in her high school softball debut.
She carried a .569 batting average and 15-game hitting streak into a May 4 game against Downers Grove South. Ruchala had her hitting streak snapped in that game, but she drove in a key run in a 7-5 win as the Warriors beat the Mustangs for the first time since 2013 when her older sister played for Willowbrook.
“It was a very big boost beating them,” Ruchala said. “They’re a very good team and we knew we’d be in for a good game. We came back with the bats. We all did our job and did something to contribute to the win. I wasn’t having a good day with the bat, so I knew I had to make contact and hope for the best and it worked out well.”
Ruchala has sparkled at the plate in her first season on the Willowbrook diamond. She leads the Warriors in hits, runs batted in (14) and runs scored (17). Perhaps most impressive, she has not struck out.
“She just displays confidence,” Karos said. “She’s fearless in the box, never fazed by the speed of the pitcher. No matter who we’re playing, it looks like she has the same mindset in the batter’s box. She is a girl who can see some pitches, is smart, not overly aggressive, seems to be level headed in the box. Good hitters even strike out. It shows that she can get her hands on a lot and is not going to go down easy.”
Ruchala, who plays second base, started off the season hitting third. Because of injuries, she was moved up early in the season to leadoff.
“It was a big change for me. Usually on my travel team, I’m not hitting leadoff,” Ruchala said. “My mentality is just wait for the pitch and when I know it’s coming drive the ball in any place in the order.”
“I don’t think her mindset has changed. Regardless of where she’s hitting, she’s going to do what she does well,” Karos said. “She’s doing exactly what we want from her hitting leadoff. If something is not broken, we’re not trying to fix it.”
Ruchala said she didn’t know what to expect competing at the varsity level as a freshman. She worked to prepare with night time reps with her travel team, ESP Elite. She did weight training, lessons and practice four times a week.
“I mean, yeah, I was a little nervous playing with girls two and three years older than me. I didn’t know how they would accept me as a freshman because of the age gap,” Ruchala said. “But me and [freshman] Hannah [Kenny] have adapted well being with this team.”
Glenbard West’s amazing Grace
On a Glenbard West team that graduated eight starters off last year’s group, senior outfielder Grace Walker is clearly the girl who makes things go.
She’s certainly been leading with her bat.
The lefty slapper who hits leadoff for the Hilltoppers started the season on an 11-game hitting streak. She’s currently hitting .403 on the season with six doubles, one triple, nine RBIs and four walks in 66 plate appearances.
Glenbard West coach Mary McGrane said Walker is the catalyst for a lineup filled with freshmen and sophomores.
”Her confidence at the plate gives her teammates confidence when they go up to bat,” McGrane said. “In a sense she’s a triple threat. She doesn’t bunt a lot, but she hits it in the hole and can hit for power. Her confidence at the plate is just contagious. She goes up there and there is no doubt she’s getting on base. She’s a competitor and a fighter when she gets in the batter’s box.”
A three-varsity member, Walker was the lone junior in last season’s lineup. She was Glenbard West’s left fielder last season until she was sidelined with a concussion.
She came out on fire this season and didn’t exactly take advantage of a soft schedule. Glenbard West has played Fremd, St. Charles East and Lake Park in nonconference games.
“She’s facing very solid pitchers, pitchers that can spin the ball and mix speeds. It was a true 11-game hitting streak,” McGrane said. “She reads defenses well and knows where she’s trying to place the ball. If the pitch is outside, she’ll take it to the left side. If it’s inside, she’ll pull it down the line.”
Around the horn
Glenbard South and Glenbard West are partnering for a special Title IX game Friday at Glenbard South. The programs are bringing back the pioneers of the schools’ girls athletics for the event. Mary Grady will be throwing out the first pitch at the game and Karen Judge will speak to the girls after the game about the progress girls sports have made and where they can go from here. Glenbard South on Saturday will be bringing back its 2012 state championship to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the state title.
A number of area teams are in the latest Illinois Softball Coaches Association rankings. Lemont is ranked second behind Antioch in Class 3A. Montini is ranked 10th in Class 2A. Downers Grove South is ranked 17th and Lyons is ranked 19th in Class 4A. Benet is ranked 20th in Class 3A.
Montini and IC Catholic were both awarded No. 1 sub-sectional seeds in the Class 2A Montini Sectional in voting released this week. Class 3A and Class 4A pairings and seeds come out next week.