At the start of every season, among the many things on a coach’s wish list is an underclassman who steps up and performs on the varsity level.
In what capacity and how much a player steps up is never known for each coach, but it’s safe to say that St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin is happy with how sophomore Abby Howlett has played thus far.
Entering the 2013 season, Poulin knew that Howlett would be a contributor for a young North Stars team. However, Howlett has been North’s offensive catalyst from the fifth position in the batting order while playing beyond what anyone could have imagined thus far.
Through Tuesday, Howlett is hitting .547 with 2 HR’s and 33 RBI, helping anchor what is a deep and balanced North Stars’ lineup. North features speed at the top leadoff hitter Sabrina Rabin and middle of the order threats Mickey Goetz and Emily Brodner that consistently get on base ahead of Howlett.
“She’s got a high softball IQ. She learns from pitch to pitch and to at-bat to at-bat,” Poulin said. “She was steady early in the year and she really caught fire. At one point she was 18-22 at the plate. She’s had quite a run from middle of the season until now at the plate. She’s hit the ball hard to all fields – really a gap-to-gap player. She’s really solidified the middle of the lineup.”
Howlett’s recent tear has spearheaded North’s recent dominance.
“If we can get people on ahead of her – which we’ve been able to do – that’s really what led to our larger scoring outputs,” Poulin said. “People had some really good at-bats and getting on base and then Abby was driving them in. She has 33 RBI right now and the majority of those have come of late.”
North made quite a statement last week, winning four of five games including a 10-0, five-inning run rule victory of rival East while splitting with previously unbeaten Naperville Central. It was Howlett’s .667 average during those games that helped North solidify itself as a real threat in the postseason.
“Right now, she’s just flat out an incredible hitter,” Poulin said. “She’s getting on base. The last five games she’s hit .667 so she’s really been hitting line drives to the gaps. That’s where she’s been hitting the last handful of game. I think she can hit for more power too – she’s just a sophomore. We’re really pleased with what she has been doing.”
Howlett is one of those underclassmen who has played beyond expectations.
“She was kind of off the radar for the majority of the season and hadn’t really heard of her,” Poulin said. “I know that people are preparing for her now considering the streak she is on now and how well she’s been hitting the ball. She has just incredible potential going forward. I think people are going to approach her a lot differently going forward.”
St. Francis has been one of the more steady area teams in the last few years and it’s no different this year as the Spartans can wrap up the SCC Blue crown this week.
In the middle of the success again for St. Francis is Maggie Remus, daughter of Spartans’ coach Ralph Remus.
The senior, who is thinking about playing softball collegiately at the Division III level, has been dominant in the circle for St. Francis.
Through 98 innings, Maggie Remus is sporting a 17-0 pitching record with 60 strikeouts and just 12 walks helping the Spartans to a 19-3 overall record.
“Most consistently, she doesn’t walk people. She has good control and can place the ball really well,” Ralph Remus said. “She gives up hits but not a lot because it’s good location and she has a good defense behind her.”
Maggie Remus has had to get used to freshman catcher Fiona Summers. Despite the backstop’s youth, the Spartans haven’t missed a beat since returning from a spring trip to Orlando.
“From day one, Maggie was nervous about the relationship between her and Fiona, but Fiona has done a terrific behind the plate,” Ralph Remus said. “We’ve been solid since we got back from Orlando. We’ve been hitting well and the defense has been great. The pitching has been good. I don’t have much to complain about.”
The Spartans’ biggest competition in the SCC Blue has been Montini. Currently, St. Francis holds a one-game edge over the Broncos in the loss column. The teams split during the season with a potential playoff matchup coming in the sectionals.
“Montini has strong hitters and a very nice pitcher,” Remus said. “We won the last game against them 6-5. They are a lot like we are, honestly. It would be a toss-up game I’d have to say. Before we see them, we’d have to get through Elmwood Park. There’s nothing easy in the playoffs.”
If the Spartans take care of St. Edward, Rosary and Guerin this week, they take home the SCC Blue crown outright.
In the Groove
Abby Howlett, sophomore 1B, St. Charles North
What she did: Howlett helped the North Stars cruise past East and split with previously unbeaten Naperville Central after hitting .667 for the week. The sophomore has become one of the tougher outs in the area, spraying the ball to all fields that has led to a .547 average.
Brooke Gaylord, Junior P, Burlington Central
What she did: Gaylord helped push the Rockets’ winning streak to 20 games after pitching BC to a 3-1 win over state power Moline. The junior is now 11-1 on the year and has teamed with Emily Kisch to form one of the tougher pitching staffs in the area.
What We Learned From Last Week
The St. Charles schools, St. Francis and Burlington Central could be poised for big runs in the postseason. In past years, East and North were usually paired in the same regional, setting up an early exit for one of the rivals. Not so this year as each teams’ fantastic regular season has pushed back a potential meeting to the East sectional. Meanwhile, St. Francis and Burlington Central could tear through the 3A brackets as each has strong pitching depth and deep lineups.
What We’ll Learn In the Week Ahead
What schools will walk away with regular season hardware. While the postseason is the most important season, taking care of business in conference, especially for East or North in the grueling UEC River is quite an accomplishment. St. Francis can also claim the SCC Blue title this week if it wins out or if second-place Montini falters.
Coach Sly Sez
Sly is looking in the playoff mirror on the wall and wants to know who of the Chronicle area teams is the fairest of them all. For the first time in a while, the St. Charles schools won’t meet in the regionals, instead likely facing off in the East sectional final. Meanwhile, Burlington Central and St. Francis, with two and three losses on the season respectively, have favorable draws in the early rounds of the playoffs.