Emily Joseph’s move to leadoff hitter this spring caught the Lyons Township senior a little by surprise.
She’s clearly taken to it.
On the first at-bat of Lyons’ first game of the season, Joseph slugged a homer. Even Joseph, a four-year varsity starter, didn’t see that coming.
“When you hit a home run, it’s not like you’re planning for it. It was like shock,” said Joseph, who previously hit second in the order. “I wasn’t trying to do it. I just wanted to get a good start to the game, but, hey, I’ll take it. It was pretty cool, but a lot to live up to after that at-bat.”
It foreshadowed quite a power surge for Joseph to start the season. She’s hit four homers in five games for the Lions, who are off to a 5-0 start. On April 12 she did it again leading off the game, homering against Morton.
“The last game we had played, I kept popping out and in my head I wanted to keep hitting live drives. If you think about hitting a home run, you’re not going to hit a home run,” Joseph said. “If you think just make solid contact, it’s a better result. First pitch was kind of outside, I went thinking up the middle, took the opportunity and drove it over the fence.”
Joseph, Lyons’ third baseman, and senior shortstop Ava Paganis, another four-year starter, are helping drive the Lions’ fast start.
Joseph was hitting .571 (8-for-14) through Lyons’ first four games with eight RBIs and nine runs scored. Paganis, a Bryant recruit, was at .500 (7-for-14) with four doubles, five RBIs and five runs scored after Lyons’ 10-9 win over Montini. Senior Analie Tumminaro was hitting .500 and senior pitcher Lily Hanafin was 4-0 with 16 strikeouts in 15 innings.
Lyons coach Nicole Marinec said Joseph’s demeanor in the batter’s box is the same as it is off the field. Marinec said Joseph is energetic, fun and a competitor.
“She brings a lot of energy and a lot of spunk,” Marinec said. “She’s very aggressive at the plate, but at the same time she knows not to be overly aggressive and not swing at balls. It’s her job to get on base. She is a disciplined hitter, but definitely more on the aggressive side.”
Joseph doesn’t dispute that and said her coach encourages that mindset. Joseph loves being the pacesetter for her team at the top of the lineup.
“I would say I’m definitely pretty aggressive. If you’re throwing a first-pitch strike, I’m going to swing at it. I’m not going to let it go past,” Joseph said. “Facing varsity level pitchers, that first pitch might be the best pitch – why would I let it go past? Our coach loves when we take that first-pitch strike and swing at it. That changes from coach to coach, but not coach Marinec. She wants us to be as aggressive as possible.”
Joseph has a few offers from Division III schools and is hopeful the opportunity presents itself to continue to play the sport she has a passion for.
“I love softball,” Joseph said. “The recruiting has been tough. I’m not blaming it on COVID. I have to work harder and hopefully it will pay off. If not, I tried. I love softball. I totally want to play in college.”
Sophomore Ella Cushing a power bat for Downers South
Downers Grove South coach Jim Cushing has pretty high praise for sophomore Ella Cushing (no relation), especially when one considers the quality of hitters he’s seen come through the Mustangs’ program over the years.
“She has an incredible amount of power, as much as anybody I’ve ever seen. She absolutely crushes the ball,” coach Cushing said. “She’s strong, she’s big and she’s athletic. And she’s got a really great work ethic.”
Ella Cushing has not had much of a chance to showcase that power stroke this spring. The Mustangs have played just one game with 10 games postponed or canceled.
She’s ready, though. Cushing dedicated her offseason to working on her physical strength and conditioning, which she said wasn’t a strong point in the past. She joined a gym and started to do cardio and weightlifting six to seven times a week. She feels a lot stronger now when she’s playing, and it’s helped her mental state.
Cushing also has worked with her hitting coach once a week and hits with her dad four to five times a week at the Bo Jackson Dome in Bensenville.
“I’m a lot more confident now. My hitting coach has helped me,” Cushing said. “He really stresses slow in the beginning, slow load, getting a good contact and good extension. If you do that right, you will hit the ball hard, your exit velocity will be a lot better.”
Cushing teased her potential as a freshman.
She hit .323, and coach Cushing said she hit York star pitcher Lauren Derkowski better than anybody in last year’s sectional game.
Two regular-season games with Addison Trail stood out to the younger Cushing.
“First time we played them, I went 0-for-3 or 0-for-4. The next time my coach gave me a tip on how to hit their pitcher [who was] throwing a lot of changeups,” Cushing said. “I hit a solo homer over the left-field fence and the next at-bat I hit a grand slam to dead center. It was a really good feeling.”
Cushing also pitches for Downers Grove South and throws a decent fastball, although it’s a bit of a work in progress two years removed from a devastating injury.
In September 2019 while in eighth grade, Cushing dislocated her ankle and broke her tibia in two places sliding into home plate. She had to have two surgeries and didn’t play softball for nine months. Working her way back as a pitcher was more difficult as it was her left striding leg that was hurt.
“Just being away was really hard because softball is my life,” Cushing said. “I had to do physical therapy three times a day every day. It was really tedious. Probably about a year after it happened I felt like I was getting my movement back. I still don’t have complete flexibility in my ankle but it feels a lot better.”
Cushing hopes to play softball in college, possibly at Illinois.
Both her parents went to Illinois. Her dad, Matt Cushing, was a three-year starting tight end at Illinois and played for six seasons with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. Ella Cushing said she’s “grown up” around the Champaign campus.
“She definitely has the potential,” coach Cushing said. “You can see why Illinois is interested in her.”
Wheaton North had multiple standout performances in its two games last week. Monica Kading went 4-for-6 with two homers and three RBIs, Reagan Crosthwaite had three doubles, a homer and three RBIs and Lauren Vaughn went 3-for-6 with two doubles and three RBIs for the Falcons, who entered the week 3-1.
For Lemont, third baseman Raegan Duncan this past week hit .727 (8-for-11) in four games with four doubles, a homer, nine RBIs and eight runs scored and also homered against Reavis. Junior catcher Frankie Rita this past week hit .417 (5-for-12) in four games with two doubles, a homer and eight runs scored.