Gina Hopf started the first month of the softball season with mostly oh-fors.
Now the Evanston sophomore has developed into a key member of the core that first-year head coach Luella Gesky is counting on for future success.
Clean-up hitter Hopf connected for her first varsity home run — a 3-run inside-the-park blast — and also doubled and scored 4 times as the Wildkits buried Chicago Lake View 18-0 on Memorial Day in the first round of the Class 4A Evanston Regional tournament.
Evanston, the No. 14 seed in the Trinity Sectional, will take a 7-22 record into Tuesday’s matchup against top-seeded York at 4:30 p.m.
Competitor that she is, Gesky anticipated more victories this spring after moving up from her position as junior varsity coach. But there’s no question that the progress made by sophomore Hopf and freshmen pitchers Zoe Kurtzer and Jaden Janzen this season proves that a winning record may be in Evanston’s not-too-distant future.
Hopf could turn out to be a star at a position — third base — that hasn’t been a strength for the ETHS program in years. Her improvement on both offense and defense is apparent even to the casual Wildkit fan.
Monday, she raised her batting average over the .240 mark following that slow start. Her home run to right center, with teammates Allie Nortz and Emma Maxwell on base, was part of a 7-run outburst by the Kits in the first inning.
Evanston capitalized on a total of 10 hits and 11 walks issued by a pair of Lake View pitchers to ease to the slaughter rule win. It marked the third straight year that ETHS has won its regional postseason opener, a first for the program.
Kurtzer was near-perfect for the winners on the mound, striking out 7 and permitting only one baserunner for the Wildcats. A leadoff single by Lily Lebron in the second inning was all that prevented a perfect game for the right-hander.
“Gina is one of those girls who has grown so much for us this year,” Gesky praised. “She came from a lot of oh-fors at the start of the season to where she is now. She has an incredibly quick bat, but at the start of the year she really lacked patience at the plate.
“We told her to start taking a 60 percent swing because she was over-swinging so much. We just wanted to slow her down a little. She still has tremendous bat speed and now she’s back to swinging 100 percent because she’s been more patient.
“She’s also doing a better job for us defensively. Third base is a tough position for anyone, because it’s really a reflex position and it’s the scariest position on the field if you aren’t able to read the ball very well. She’s really grown and she’s worked on increasing her range, along with our other infielders. Her range has improved so much, and so has her confidence at the plate.”
Evanston batted around in the bottom of the first inning against the No. 17 seeded Wildcats, although the only hits for the winners were Hopf’s homer and a two-run opposite-field single by Izzy Bergmann. The visitors committed two errors and losing pitcher Neyelle Herrera tossed three wild pitches in the frame.
A Nortz walk and Maxwell’s triple produced another run in the second, although Maxwell was thrown out at the plate trying to stretch her hit into a four-bagger. Hopf then doubled to right, took third on the right fielder’s throwing error and crossed on another wild pitch. Pinch-hitter Meghan Chambers eventually drew a bases-loaded walk to boost the score to 12-0 before the inning finally ended.
Hopf’s run in the third was unearned after she was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third and came around on a throwing error.
Evanston tacked on 5 more runs in the fourth, including a pinch-hit, RBI single by freshman Kendra Klamm in her first varsity at-bat.
“I’m an optimist and I see great things ahead for some of these players,” added Gesky. “We have two young pitchers who are this strong this early in their careers, and their only problem is that they have one inning where a meltdown costs them. And we have young kids coming up from the JV team who are coming up with a different (read winning) mindset.
“We have a nice core crew, and I can see the culture slowly changing.”