There’s an app called Gamechanger that Evanston’s softball coaching staff has used for years to keep statistics for each individual player and for live updates from games.
Now the Wildkits have their own “game-changer” back in action for the 2023 campaign that opens Thursday at Libertyville, weather permitting.
The return of pitcher Serafina Goodwill, a junior who missed all of last year after knee surgery, is expected to provide a significant lift for a program that mustered just two victories in 21 games without their ace in the circle.
One player CAN make that big a difference in the fast-pitch game. Ask head coach Amy
Gonzales, and she’ll tell you there’s no way to overstate the importance of bringing back an ace right-hander who is also a middle-of-the-order hitter.
“It’s really important for us to have Serafina back,” said Gonzales, who took over as head coach in 2019. “She did so much for us her freshman year, both offensively and defensively, and I know she’s really excited to be back after being off for a whole year. She’s a very good pitcher and she’ll make a big difference for us.
“As a freshman she had one of her better games of the year in the regional at Whitney Young [career high 15 strikeouts versus Lake Park], and that tells you how much she had improved all year. She’ll wear a brace on her knee to help with her lateral movement, but she feels good right now. We may have to ease her into the season and see how she feels, only time will tell.”
Goodwill tore the ACL ligament in her knee playing club volleyball after pitching in 21 of Evanston’s 22 games in 2021. She batted .443 and usually hit clean-up in the batting order, and she slugged a school record 3 home runs in a single game versus Glenbrook North that year.
The Wildkits struggled in the pitching department without Goodwill, even though Gonzales had planned to use more of a rotation involving Lexie Lennon and Maya Nelson prior to Goodwill’s season-ending injury.
Lennon, a junior, and Nelson, a sophomore, both gained valuable experience in an otherwise painful year. One of the toughest tasks for Gonzales and assistant coach Beeta Azarnoosh was dealing with the fact that 2022 was a step backward for the program that finally seemed to have turned the corner in recent years.
Maintaining morale for a squad that lost a number of close games and started two freshmen – Delila Liston at shortstop and Aayna Ghose at designated hitter – became a priority as the losses mounted.
“We want our kids to win and be successful, but that’s just part of it,” Gonzales pointed out. “A season like the one we had last year teaches you a lot, too. It’s part of the game and hopefully they can build off of that. We lost a lot of close games – it’s not like we were getting blown out in most of those losses – and we just couldn’t get over the hump.
“All I know is that we’ll definitely be the most improved team by the end of this year.”
The head coach believes the future is bright because of those freshmen, even if they were overmatched at times facing varsity pitching for the first time.
Liston, who also played varsity basketball this winter, will probably shift to catcher. Ghose could start at one of the corner spots, either first base or third base, and Nelson will take a turn in the infield when she isn’t in the circle.
“All three of them are good hitters,” Gonzales praised. “Delila had the most success, but Maya figured some things out by mid-season, and I think Aayna has a very good swing and very good mechanics. I think last year was beneficial for all of them. Offensively, it’s a big change when you go from travel ball to varsity, but all three of them are very capable.”
ETHS will carry just two seniors on the varsity roster this season. Outfielder Kelsey Blickenstaff is a returning starter who would already own a Gold Glove if that award existed for high school softball, and another senior, Ariana Munoz, is challenging for a job in the outfield, too.
The junior class features Lennon, whose left-handed bat should be a plus when she pitches or plays first, and outfielder Natalie Lundgren.
Versatile sophomore Roselyn Witt joined varsity midway through last season and can play solid softball at almost any position defensively, and another sophomore, Kenna Brokowski, could see action behind the plate or in the outfield. Charlie Henderson could emerge as a sophomore starter at either shortstop, second base or first base.
Freshman Sophie Berger-White will also battle for playing time in the infield.
“It’s a young group, but some of them have played together for a long time. We’re excited about the season because we know they have a lot of ability,” Gonzales added. “I’m really looking forward to the season.”
Evanston’s home opener is scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. against Chicago Taft.
Just a quick correction. The team won their 2021 regional playoff game against “Lincoln Park” High School – an away game at Lincoln Park.