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Give Amy Gonzales the top pick in a fantasy softball draft and the Evanston coach wouldn’t have a problem choosing Molly Chambers.
But the once-in-a-lifetime pitcher for the program didn’t get to play her senior year and now the Wildkits have to move on without her.
The coronavirus pandemic wiped out the spring season for every high school sport in 2020, robbing Chambers – now pitching at Princeton University – of a chance to perform in the circle about 20 more times for ETHS where she already owned the school career records for victories, strikeouts, and earned run average.
Chambers’ emergence was especially critical as the Wildkits captured rare conference and regional championships during her career. For years, the Kits lacked a stopper in the circle as feeder programs struggled to produce talent at that critical position in the fast-pitch game.
Now, with the 2021 season opener set for Tuesday against Chicago Taft, the Wildkits open an abbreviated season wondering who her successor will be.
The fact that there is now more depth in the entire program – despite a low turnout of players overall – in the pitching department is a good sign for the ETHS head coach.
“Now we’re seeing more girls who actually want to pitch, and we don’t have to convert them from infielders or outfielders,” said Coach Gonzales. “We’re very fortunate right now because we have four freshmen pitchers who have done it with the Evanston Express and another program. They’re all at different levels right now, but I don’t think we’ve ever had four in one class like that. They have knowledge, and they have skill, and we’ll be able to build off that.
“Pitching is a tough position and the fact that these girls have pursued it, and like it, definitely helps. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility there.
“Last year was most unfortunate for all of the seniors, especially. After working all year with the strength coaches like they did, I was really looking forward to seeing how that would pay off. Molly accomplished a lot in her three years here and it’s hard to replace a kid like that.”
Coach Gonzales will likely turn to a freshman, Serafina Goodwill, as the No. 1 pitching option for a season that will feature contests against mostly Central Suburban League foes. Travel will be limited, but the Kit girls will get to aim for postseason success now that the Illinois High School Association has restored State tournament series for all of the spring sports again.
The coach doesn’t expect Goodwill to be another Chambers. Not yet, anyway.
“Serafina has a lot of talent, as a pitcher and as a hitter,” said the Evanston coach. “But I don’t want to compare her to Molly. She’s not following in Molly’s footsteps. I want Serafina to have her own path.
“She can also play the infield and the outfield for us. She has a few different pitches, and has good speed on her fastball. She’ll definitely be an asset. But Molly had the fall and winter workouts, and open gyms, before she played as a freshman. It’s asking a lot for a freshman to be thrown in like this.”
Junior Eva Eiseman and another freshman who’ll likely rotate between the varsity and junior varsity, Lexi Lennon, will back Goodwill up.
Coach Gonzales’ varsity roster includes just 11 players from the program’s turnout of about 35 hopefuls. The veteran coach, however, has emphasized versatility among the lower level and varsity players since joining the program and the lack of depth is somewhat compensated for by the fact that most of the ETHS players can play more than one position.
Middle-of-the-order hitters Chloe Haack and Katie Patton will provide punch and leadership on a roster that features seven seniors, three juniors, and Goodwill.
Haack has divided her career between shortstop and catcher and will be the full-time shortstop for her senior spring. She earned all-conference recognition as a sophomore and is the Kits’ softball version of shortstop Cory Seager of the world champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Chloe’s a strong fielder, and a very good contact hitter,” Coach Gonzales praised. “She and Katie [Patton] are the kind who lead by example. Katie’s gotten stronger every year [she’ll start at catcher] and they both have a lot of varsity experience.”
Evanston’s lineup for Tuesday’s home opener versus Chicago Taft will likely include Madison McGuire at first base, Eiseman at second base, Haack at short, and junior Katy Cleland-Horn at third, with catcher Patton rounding out the infield.
Hard-hitting senior Cristal Rodriguez, Kristin Stocks, and Lucia Goldberg will handle the outfield spots. Help will also come from the Maguire sisters, twins Meghan and Jennifer, in the infield.
“It’s been weird, being off for so long, and I guess you could call this a rebuilding year for us,” said Coach Gonzales. “It’s just different having had a whole year off. It’s a new time for the program, and we have a good group of girls. I think we’ll do well.”