Softball notes: Wheaton North has sights set on first conference, regional titles since 1986

Falcons take one-game lead in DuKane into final week, earn No. 1 sectional seed

Wheaton North's Erin Metz (6) pitches during an April 2024 game at Wheaton Warrenville South.

Allie Ravanesi has an easy reference point to help recall the last time Wheaton North softball won both conference and regional championships.

It was 1986.

Coincidentally, that’s the year the Falcons’ coach was born.

“That’s the problem, we don’t have the hardware to back up our play,” Ravanesi said. “Last year, we got second in conference. We’re taking those steps. We have been building. Hopefully this is our year to make a run.”

Wheaton North is indeed on the precipice of history.

The Falcons (22-5, 10-2) are two games up on Glenbard North and St. Charles North in the DuKane Conference race in the final week of the regular season.

On the postseason front, Wheaton North has earned the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A Plainfield North Sectional.

Ravanesi, though, isn’t about to put the cart ahead of the horse. Wheaton North has never won a sectional.

“It’s obviously our goal to make a run, but one game at a time,” she said. ”We’re not even talking about regionals.”

The Falcons appear to be hitting their stride at the right time. They’ve won six consecutive games with a big 5-2 comeback win over Glenbard North on Monday and close wins over Wheaton Warrenville South, Lake Park and Barrington the previous week. That came after Wheaton North dropped three of four, including losses to Glenbard North and St. Charles North.

Wheaton North has hit 39 homers on the season, led by Reagan Crosthwaite’s program-record 16 and Erin Metz’s seven.

Ravanesi said she wants her team to find ways to score without using the long ball.

“The only runs we had been scoring lately was on homers. That’s great, but we can’t count on home runs,” Ravanesi said. “[In a 4-3 win over Barrington] we had 11 hits and none of them were home runs. We put the ball in play and we just made things happen. That’s what we’ve been doing the last couple games, getting back on track.

“That little spurt against Glenbard North and St. Charles North we weren’t hitting, weren’t making those fundamental plays. Now we’re back on track doing those things.”

Ravanesi will gladly take the No. 1 sectional seed, but she also isn’t taking anything for granted. Last year, Wheaton North earned a No. 2 seed but was upset by West Chicago in a regional final.

“I try to keep them grounded,” she said. “It’s great that we’re No. 1, but weird things happen in the postseason. We play our game and we will go far, but if we’re not focused and don’t play our game, heck a 15 seed could beat us.”

Downers Grove North's Ava Gusel (6) delivers a pitch against Oswego during a softball game at Oswego High School.

Downers Grove North’s power pitching combo

Downers Grove North is closing in on a West Suburban Silver title and it isn’t hard to figure out why.

As usual, it starts with pitching.

A program blessed with stellar talent in the circle over the years has two Division I pitchers in senior Ava Gusel, a DePaul recruit, and junior Ashlynn Durkin, a Florida Atlantic commit.

The two are the perfect complement. Gusel is a left-hander and Durkin a righty.

“It’s good to have the look of a righty and lefty power pitcher,” Downers Grove North coach Eric Landschoot said. “They’re both working on their changeup, offspeed pitches, not afraid to mix it up, they attack the strike zone. I’ve had games where I put in Ava or Ashlynn for each other or vice versa. It takes hitters a while to adjust.”

Durkin in 60 innings has posted a 6-2 record with a 2.22 ERA and 106 strikeouts. Gusel over 54 innings has a 5-1 record with a 1.69 ERA and 77 strikeouts.

Downers Grove North (14-7, 7-1) has a half-game lead on Oak Park-River Forest.

“I want to win conference again,” Gusel said. “We didn’t win it last year, but we did my sophomore year. I’m a senior. I really want to take conference.”

Gusel, in her fourth varsity season, said she’s incorporating more pitches as hitters acclimate to her. She’s used her changeup and dropball more. It helps to exchange ideas with Durkin, who also has been a teammate with the Orland Park Sparks travel team.

“We have a strong connection personally outside of softball,” Gusel said. “That’s helped a lot going into high school season. When we’re not in the right mind, we pick ourselves up and believe in each other. We tell each other it’s you and me, we got this. Whatever happens we can only control what happens on the mound. We’re here to help each other up.”

The Trojans’ offense is not great, but four-year varsity starter Maya Rodriguez, an Indianapolis commit, is batting .494 with a .541 on-base percentage, six doubles, two homers, 15 RBIs and 26 runs scored.

Downers Grove South’s big hitters

Downers Grove South (18-5) has won 15 of its last 17 games since a 3-3 start and is led by three big hitters.

Senior shortstop and leadoff hitter Grace Taylor, an Appalachian State commit, is batting .507. Behind her, Wisconsin-Platteville commit Julia Colorato is batting around .500. The power bat is senior Ella Cushing, an Illinois recruit batting .460 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs.

“They have definitely led by example,” Mustangs coach Jim Cushing said. “If Ella doesn’t get a big hit, Julia is there right before her and Grace is our spark plug. She can steal and is a great baserunner. If somebody isn’t looking, she can take the base. She has stolen half the bases on her own, is a very smart baserunner. She has anchored our lineup.”

The Mustangs have leaned on their offense, which scores more than 10 runs a game.

In the circle, a wrist injury has limited Cushing to minimal innings, so sophomore Morgan Hahn has done much of the work.

“We’ve had to hit a lot to win a lot of games,” coach Cushing said. “We’re getting better on defense. We’re not super-duper tough on defense but every day we get a little bit better.”

Milestones at IC Catholic

IC Catholic Prep clinched the GCAC White title May 4 with a 9-5 win over Trinity. Knights senior Analisa Raffaelli passed the 200-hit mark for her career last week and head coach Frank Reaber earned his 300th career win.

Joshua  Welge

Joshua Welge

I am the Sports Editor for Kendall County Newspapers, the Kane County Chronicle and Suburban Life Media, covering primarily sports in Kendall, Kane, DuPage and western Cook counties. I've been covering high school sports for 24 years. I also assist with our news coverage.