Written by Anthony Nasella
Photo by Jeff Vorva
Ashley Lynch, left in catcher's gear, and shortstop Kelly Walinski have made an immediate impact as freshmen for Queen of Peace’s softball team.
When Kelly Small accepted the head softball post at Queen of Peace she knew she was coming aboard to guide a team loaded with experienced seniors.
But nothing prepared Small for the twofold surprise that came in the form of a pair of talented first-year players.
Freshmen catcher Ashley Lynch and shortstop Kelly Walinski are skilled on defense and emerged as offensive juggernauts who have helped Queen of Peace to an above .500 record (12-11-1 through in its first 24 games) with promise for the future.
Heading into this week, Lynch was leading the team with a sizzling .512 battering average, while slugging four home runs, driving in 35 runs and scoring 21. Walinski was hitting .446, with five dingers, 27 RBI, and 32 runs scored.
“We have eight talented seniors on this team, but Ashley and Kelly have exploded on the diamond for lack of a better description,” said Small, who coached Oak Lawn’s frosh-soph team the past four years and graduated from Oak Lawn Community High School. “I was curious how they would perform with so many seniors, and they’ve blended in wonderfully.’’
Small said she likes Lynch’s skills behind the plate and the way she works with four-year starting pitcher Lindsey Kuducki.
“Ashley doesn’t miss anything, especially when she’s paired with Lindsey,” Small said. “She calls every single pitch, and she’s not afraid to throw the ball as far picking runners off the keeping them on the bag. She’s already one of the best catchers in the area.”
For Walinkski, a native of Worth, Small measures her stellar play at shortstop by the volume of dirt on her uniform.
“Her uniform is never clean and is the first one to get down and dirty,” Small said. “We have a saying in our infield that nothing get through without blood, sweat and tears on it, and Kelly is the epitome of that saying. She’s so passionate about the game and how she plays it; her range is just amazing.’’
Lynch, who calls LaGrange home, admitted to having some initial trepidation about playing on a team full of seniors.
“I was afraid they wouldn’t like me because I was a freshman,” she said. “Would I fit in with them? As soon as tryouts came, they were all so nice to me. It was so easy to get along with them. They treated me the same. It’s been an amazing experience.’’
Walinski said she never imagined the opportunity to play – much less contribute at a significant level – as a freshman.
“I certainly didn’t expect going in that I would be starting as a freshman at shortstop,” she said. “Ashely and I started on fire together, and my teammates have been the best. I know I wouldn’t be playing at the level I‘m playing at without them.’’
Both freshmen credit their emerging games on the exposure to quality competition through their respective travel softball teams. Lynch plays for the Berwyn Bash and Walinski is part of the Orland Sparks.
“I think I learned the most from my dad, John, and my travel coach Tommy Blood,” Lynch said. “I wouldn’t be the player I am without them.’’
Walinski credits Sparks coach Katlyn Braget in helping her realize her potential.
“Playing travel ball definitely prepared me for varsity and has put me at an advantage,” Walinksi said. “When you face good competition, it takes your game to a higher level.”
With the play of Lynch and Walinski blending in with established players like Kudecki and third-base fielding extraordinaire Caitlin Fitzgerald,
Small is not putting any limits on what her team is capable of doing in the postseason – which kicks off Tuesday in the Class 3A Lemont Regional when the Pride faces Chicago Noble.
“We’ve played a very challenging schedule, and the girls have played competitive all season,” she said. “Five of our losses have been by just one run, so I like what we have with this team. We’re excited about the challenge of the postseason.”
Stagg honors 12 college signees
Stagg High School recently held a ceremony to honor 12 athletes who will continue sports at the college level.
In baseball, Josh Nowak is heading to Gulf Coast State, Jack Philgren to Robert Morris University and Max Downs will play for Parkland Community College.
In tennis Leeza Bodnar and Silvia Kulbokas are heading to Lake Forest, in dancing, Taryn Mousatkas is heading to St. Ambrose, in softball, Amber Green committed to Roosevelt, in volleyball Heather Fane is heading to Moraine Valley and in track, David Cooling is attending Northwood University and Jordan Houlihan is heading to Valparaiso.
In football, Josh Sterling is heading to Robert Morris University and in soccer, Jazmin Castanon will go to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
Eight from McAuley moving up
Mother McAuley softball players Kara Bischoff (Illinois Wesleyan), Molly Murphy (Cardinal Stritch) and Alison Alberts (St. Mary’s College of Notre Dame) committed to colleges as did water polo standouts Geena Peyton (George Washington University), Maggie Hennidan (Carthage) and Julia Olivares (St. Francis) and track stars Alexandria Bryant (Western Michigan) and Ashley Canner (Lake Forest).
Rafacz named OL Athlete of the Week
The Oak Lawn Spartan Athlete of the Week for May 2 was junior second baseman on the softball team, Natalia Rafacz who, in in three games was 6-for-11 (.545) with four runs scored and four RBI.