Softball team wins conference championship, looks to upcoming Regionals

The+Upstate+Eight+Conference+Varsity+softball+champions%3A+the+West+Chicago+Wildcats.

Photo by Sean Gimpert

The Upstate Eight Conference Varsity softball champions: the West Chicago Wildcats.

By Leslie Fireman, Chronicle Advisor

West Chicago Community High School’s Varsity girls’ softball team won their first conference championship in more than a decade when they defeated Streamwood on May 17.

The team tied with South Elgin for first place in the conference after a nail-biting race to the top. Against Streamwood, sophomore pitcher Scout Gallagher pitched 3 innings with 6 strikeouts. Freshman Summer Silks stepped up to mound as well, pitching 2 innings and 5 strikeouts. Sole senior Brianna Pechman had 4 hits, with 4 runs batted in and 3 stolen bases. Silks and freshman pitcher Jasmyn Trigueros both had 2 hits, including a double. The Wildcats took the win, 14-0.

“We’ve totally exceeded my expectations. [The Varsity team has not had a] winning record since 2012. So really positive things [have emerged] this year partly due to our [underclassmen] stepping up,” said coach Sean Gimpert.

Senior and co-captain Brianna Pechman finishes her career at WEGO with a commitment to play at NIU in the fall. (Photo by Yearbook Staff)

Throughout the spring, the Wildcats worked to clinch the Upstate Eight Conference (UEC), a feat they just missed on May 14 when Glenbard South beat the team 10-3. Just 2 days later, however, South Elgin lost their conference game against Glenbard East 6-5, which gave the Wildcats an opportunity to tie for the conference championship.

The Wildcats now look to perform well at the IHSA Regional Semifinals, which will take place May 25-28 at Neuqua Valley High School.

While the start of the season saw a number of games postponed or cancelled due to weather, as well as a few early losses, the team picked up with a win over Grayslake in, of all places, Orlando, Florida, over spring break.

Practicing over spring break is routine in high school softball, and so the trip to Florida offered the “best of both worlds: we got to play our softball games and got a spring break on top of that,” said Gimpert.

The Varsity Wildcats had the opportunity to travel twice previously, first to South Carolina, then to Vero Beach, Florida, but when COVID struck, all travel plans were put on hold. The trip to Orlando marked a return to normalcy, although the return home was anything but: when their flight was cancelled due to computer issues and “terrible weather,” the group was left scrambling, “trying to find twenty-five seats during the busiest time of the year,” said Gimpert.

Ultimately, high school principal Dr. Will Dwyer had to step in to find transportation – via an 18-hour non-stop bus ride – for the team. Despite the substantially difficult and delayed return journey, Orlando “was an awesome trip. Really fun. You get to play in 80-degree weather all week. Nice team bonding – both with softball, and you get to have a spring break, too,” said Gimpert.

Sophomore and co-captain Scout Gallagher has pitched a number of strikeouts this season and holds the record for most home runs in a season. (Photo by Yearbook Staff)

Back in Illinois, the Wildcats then took their second win of the season on April 11, defeating Fenton 13-2. The game saw 5 hits, including 2 doubles, a triple, and 5 RBI from sophomore Cora Garling, 4 hits from Gallagher, who also struck out 12, and 3 hits with 2 doubles from sophomore Carly Clemens. Future Division 1 softball player and Pechman stole 6 bases in this exciting game.

A 17-0 win over East Aurora on April 12 bolstered the team’s confidence. Trigueros earned her first Varsity win with 4 strikeouts, and Silks added 4 strikeouts in relief. Clemens continued her 3-hit streak, while Garling, Gallagher, and sophomore Ellie Wingstedt and juniors Katie McGlynn and Alyssa Elizondo all brought in multiple hits.

“We have a big sophomore class, and a lot of them were up on Varsity, but they struggled [their first year]. With that struggle out of the way, they really stepped up, and we pulled three freshmen up this year. I would attribute a lot to our pitching: Scout and Jasmyn. And Carly came out nowhere with her hitting. It doesn’t hurt having Bri on the team, who is going division one,” said Gimpert.

The coach describes Gallagher, who plays on an elite travel team outside of the high school, as the Wildcats’ most powerful hitter, and “a quiet leader who leads by example.” Trigueros, the team’s other pitcher, “is more of a finesse pitcher who moves the ball around.”

“We have the luxury of having two really good pitchers, and they have different pitching styles, but play off each other,” said Gimpert.

The triumph over East Aurora propelled the team to 2-0 in conference, which was soon bumped to 4-0 with a 12-2 win on April 19. Up against South Elgin, Gallagher pitched a complete game with 7 strikeouts and 0 walks. She also added 3 hits, including a 2-run home run and a grand slam. Trigueros, Garling, Silks and freshman Abby Del Preto all had two-hit games.

Freshman Jasmyn Trigueros is one of three freshmen pulled up to Varsity. (Photo by Lifetouch)

“Our most successful game was our first game against South Elgin. They have been one of the top dogs in our conference, so we definitely were planning on that being a tough game, and it was. It was a total pitchers’ battle, and we were winning three to two until the last inning, where we really rallied and ended up winning by ten! Just the fact that we played such a competitive game and were able to break through and beat up a good team really showed us that we could go far this year and got our momentum going,” said Garling.

“We went into that game thinking we didn’t have a chance and that, just like previous years, we were going to lose. But as the game started, we just got up on the fence and started cheering. Our team has the Domino Effect: once one person [gets] a big hit, we all feed off that energy and continued to cheer and play as hard as we [can]. It was the best feeling when the last out was made and we beat them,” said Silks.

One of the most thrilling games of the season arrived on April 21, when the team scored 25 runs to Bartlett’s 4. Gallagher brought in 4 runs with a grand slam, while a home run from Clemens saw another 3 cross the plate.

West Chicago Community High School’s 2022 Varsity girls’ softball team. (Photo by Lifetouch)

“You can’t say enough about her hitting and how important that has been to our success. She is a power hitter. Some of the other coaches are asking about her and saying great things about her,” said Gimpert of Clemens.

Additional hits from sophomore Nina Komaniecki and Del Preto, as well as 3 steals from Pechman, helped the team maintain its first-place position in the Upstate Eight with a 6-0 record.

This month, the team has continued its winning streak, improving to 11-0 in the UEC with a victory over Fenton on May 2. The match-up saw Trigueros pitch a complete game with 8 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Pechman produced 3 hits, 3 runs and 2 steals, and Gallagher continued her strong season with 2 hits and 3 RBI.

Sophomore Carly Clemens watches the action from home plate. (Photo by Lifetouch) (Photo by Carly Clemens)

Gallagher was back on the mound on May 7 with a tournament in Marengo. She pitched against Oswego with 6 strikeouts, and Trigueros saw 13 strikeouts pitching against Cary Grove. Wingstedt had 2 hits and 4 RBIs, and Garling also brought in 2 hits, Although WEGO lost to Oswego, 5-4, they took the win over Cary Grove, 10-5.

Although the Wildcats fell to South Elgin on May 10, they creamed East Aurora on May 11, winning 15-0.  Just two days later, the Wildcats were back in action, defeating Batavia 10-1. Gallagher hit another grand slam, and the Wildcats saw great plays from Pechman, Garling and Del Petro.

Junior Erin Upham, who had 2 hits in the East Aurora game, “has been featured on the bases a lot this year. When we need some extra speed on the bases, Erin has been able to step into that role at some very important parts of our season to give us a lift.”

Varsity finished the season 20-8. The players and coach alike attribute that success to teamwork and the contributions of each and every player.

“[Junior Bridget Jakabcsin] actually played with her broken finger for about two weeks before she told anyone which goes to show you her toughness, which is something we have been missing over the last few years. Nobody wants to miss a game and everyone wants to contribute,” said Gimpert.

Gallagher and Clemens, who broke West Chicago Community High School’s record (since at least 2011) for the number of home runs in a season, each with 8, are currently in a race to see who will finish the year with the most. Gallagher said she is “hoping that” they “continue to dominate at the plate. In the end, it’s all about supporting everyone.”

“The season isn’t over yet,” said Clemens, who has been focusing on “being calm and confident” when up at bat.

The camaraderie on the team is bolstered by the fact many of the girls have played together previously. Coach Gimpert established the West Chicago Travel Softball organization four years ago, and a number of the Varsity players started in that program, which is open to girls age 10 and up and geared toward District 94-bound athletes.

“We wanted to get these girls playing together at an early age,” said Gimpert.

“Our team, for sure, has a lot of very different girls on it, personality, age-wise, and so on,” said Garling, one of the athletes who came from the feeder program. “I’d say though our two main strengths are supporting and cheering each other on, and playing while having fun. We cheer a lot, especially when our team is up to bat and you can always expect a high five and a good job after you make a play, whether it’s a highlight reel play or just routine, and I think that helps us to always stay positive. Also, though we like to goof around and have fun while being serious and playing hard which makes the games just so much more enjoyable and honestly helps us to play better too. Mentality is everything.”

Erin Upham, Bridget Jakabcsin, Katie McGlynn, Alyssa Elizondo and Summer Silks stand for the national anthem. (Photo by Lifetouch)

This year, the team was co-captained by Pechman and Gallagher. The duo formed a tight bond.

“Bri has guided me in a way that I became a leader and a better captain myself. She’s always cheering and helping people out, not just with techniques on the field, but off the field as well, with the friendships on this team. She always has the best interests for the team and never thinks about herself or blames other people for mistakes. She is a great leader,” said Gallagher.

According to Gimpert, Pechman “has evolved in that leadership role,” and come to realize “that it’s not about her being the best player, which she is, but trying to make everyone around her the best players they can be. Freshman year, she was motivated by individual accolades because she knew she wanted to play in college, but once she established that she could do that, she focused on how she can help the other players be better. She is teaching girls how to win, and what it means to be a Varsity athlete.”

As the team gears up for Regionals, it is clear the Wildcats have the potential to do well. According to the coach, in the past, “the level of competition has not been there. The ability level in my program is night and day compared to last year.”

“Our team is made up of so many different types of people. We all have such good qualities on and off the field. Our strengths are different, but that’s what makes us such a great team,” said Silks.