Softball: Freshman Lexi Russ comes through for IC Catholic Prep, but North Boone rallies to win supersectional

Russ scores once, doubles in go-ahead run, but Knights fall short in bid for first state trip

IC Catholic Prep freshman Lexi Russ

LISLE – Lexi Russ’ cousin, Lucy, was the setter on IC Catholic Prep’s state runner-up volleyball teams the past two years, and Lexi also plays volleyball.

Softball, though, is Lexi’s sport.

No surprise there. Her dad, Randy, played and is in the 16-inch softball Hall of Fame.

“When I was younger he would always help me, go to the field, strive for me to get better,” Russ said. “He’s always motivated me.”

The apple hasn’t fallen very far from the tree. Russ is a powerful left-handed hitter, one of three talented freshman starters that’s helped fuel the Knights this year.

And Russ showcased that power bat Monday, singling and scoring IC Catholic Prep’s first run and doubling in the go-ahead run in the fifth. North Boone, though, answered with three runs in the bottom half and went on to a 5-3 win in the Class 2A Benedictine University Supersectional.

It will be North Boone, not IC Catholic, making its first state tournament appearance. But it wasn’t all lost for the Knights.

“All the years [Knights coach] Frank [Reaber] has been coaching, he said he was most proud of this team and proud of the way we played,” Russ said. “We lost six games, and all six of them were by fewer than three runs. We were in every game.”

An offense averaging 10 runs a game was a big reason why, and got rolling in the third. Russ singled to center and Angelina Dwyer doubled her in. In the fifth, Analisa Raffaelli reached on a dropped pop-up, stole second and scored on Russ’ opposite-field double just inside the left-field line.

“We knew about this team, we knew their pitcher was a lefty and mostly pitched outside,” Russ said. “My approach was looking left side. I saw an opening. That’s where I was dialed in.”

Russ was dialed in on the Benedictine field.

Two years ago, she hit her first-ever over-the-fence home run on the same diamond.

“It brought back memories,” Russ said.

When Dwyer singled off the second baseman’s glove to score Russ, the Knights (28-6) led 3-1, nine outs from their first state trip. Russ, for one, knew what it was like being at state as a fan. She watched her cousin Lucy at state volleyball the past two years.

“We always thought this team had a shot at going downstate, too,” Russ said. “Watching my cousin, I knew the competition was really good. I thought it would be a great experience.”

That Russ was in the middle of IC Catholic’s two scoring rallies was no surprise to Reaber. She hit .569 this season, second to Raffaelli on IC, with a team-high 47 runs batted in and a freshman program record 66 hits.

“She gets low in the box, gets a tight strike zone,” Reaber said. “She only struck out [five] times all year. She hits the ball.”

IC Catholic sophomore starting pitcher Maddy Dinino, who struck out five, looked in good shape pitching with the lead. She retired eight straight batters after a two-out single in the second, and got North Boone’s leadoff hitter in the fifth on a pop-up.

But five of the Vikings’ next six batters reached base off Dinino, the first four on singles. Lauren Stefek had the big one, a two-out, two-run single for a 4-3 lead. North Boone tacked on a run in the sixth.

“They just had that one big inning. I thought Maddy pitched a great game,” Reaber said. “I just wanted to be in the game in the fifth inning and we were.”

Stefek is one of five senior starters who helped North Boone (28-4) knock off Marengo for the program’s first regional title in 12 years, and then beat Richmond-Burton for the school’s first sectional title.

Now North Boone plays Auburn co-op in a Class 2A state semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Peoria.

“We’ve kind of had a lot of firsts. To beat Marengo, the last couple years they’ve handled us, to get over that hump, I thought we were battle-tested,” North Boone coach Tim Fleming said. “We were excited, but it’s a hungry group. We always wanted more.”

The future is bright for IC Catholic, which was playing in its fourth supersectional under Reaber, with five starters returning.

Raffaelli had a tough final game, reaching base just once on the error, but it was quite a career for the Colgate commit. The three-time GCAC Player of the Year surpassed 200 hits for her career, hit .653 for the year and broke her own single-season stolen base record.

“We have some good freshmen coming in, Maddy is only a sophomore,” Reaber said, but yeah, Analisa, she’s the best player that’s ever come out of IC. The best player that I’ve coached by far.”

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.