The Batavia softball team went 9-19 last year in the first season under coach Lupe Castellanos, and this year’s Bulldogs are less experienced and without graduated standout Katie Ryan.
Factor in how strong the Upstate Eight Conference is in softball, and there’s little doubt the Bulldogs’ prospects this season will be greeted by plenty of skepticism.
But Castellanos insists it’s an entirely different story within the Bulldogs’ dugout.
Even after Batavia managed only one hit in Monday’s season-opening loss to Kaneland, Castellanos said he has no intentions of lowering expectations for his team, which includes only two seniors.
“I want them to have high standards and high goals for themselves,” Castellanos said. “I don’t want to just use the excuse that they’re young or there’s a lot of kids that don’t have a lot of varsity experience. I do have a lot of high expectations as far as how we compete out there on the field. I kind of coach them just like any other group that I would coach.”
That’s an admirable but ambitious approach to take this season.
Six of the Bulldogs’ 14 players are freshmen or sophomores. Batavia’s projected top pitcher, Rachael Lovestrand, is a freshman. Other than junior Ryanne Rokos, there isn’t much proven offense in the Bulldogs’ lineup.
All of those factors will make Batavia a decided underdog most times out this season, but that’s fine by Castellanos.
“I don’t expect teams to overlook us but I hope us obviously having a down year last year, probably not a lot of teams are looking at us or kind of worried about us,” Castellanos said. “I’m the kind of coach even if I have a team that’s real good, I like to try and stay under the radar, not to try to sneak up on teams, but I feel like when you put yourself out there, you put the bull’s eye on yourself. I’m one of those coaches, I like to fly under the radar and do what we need to do as a team to compete, and let everything else fall where it may.”
Even with few returnees who have much of a high school track record, Castellanos said Batavia has plenty of talented travel softball talent that is ready to break out.
“I think really the biggest challenge is probably just them learning to play at the varsity level, trying to limit our mistakes, as far as we usually have like one inning that kind of gets away from us,” Castellanos said. “If we can limit that one big inning, I think we’ll have a lot of success.”
This is a tough year to have to teach players to win on the fly.
St. Charles East and St. Charles North are not only favorites in the UEC River but legitimate contenders to advance downstate. If the Bulldogs can play competitively with the rest of the teams in the UEC River and win a few crossover games against a strong pool of UEC Valley teams, this season would have to be considered a successful bridge to the future.
Castellanos said pushing Batavia softball back onto a winning trajectory will be “a process.”
Credit Castellanos for his reluctance to lower the bar for his team, but this might be a season in which the Bulldogs are best served measuring their progress in ways other than wins and losses.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.