By Marty Farmer
The Beverly Bandits' loss was the Oak Park Windmills 10-Under softball team's gain.
When star pitcher Olivia Perez decided to return to the Windmills after a brief stint with the heralded Bandits travel-team, the Windmills took off.
"The Bandits go out and find some of the best players in the Midwest," said Paul Steinhofer, who handles communications and scheduling for the Windmills. "Olivia was not really happy or having fun with the Bandits, so she decided to come back and play with her friends on the Windmills."
With or without Perez, the Windmills are a formidable team. However, she proved her value when she pitched 34 innings with 73 strikeouts, 10 walks and a 0.87 earned-run in the North American Fastpitch Association Championship Tournament in Minnesota. Her virtuoso performance in the pitcher's circle powered the Windmills to claim the coveted championship.
"Olivia is an amazing pitcher," Steinhofer said. "She has a devastating fastball and nice change-up. I don't think some of the teams at the national tournament have seen a fastball like Olivia's. She can be a big-time pitcher at the high school level."
While pitching is always of paramount importance, the Windmills are a balanced team with star power throughout the lineup.
First baseman Samantha Steinhofer (Paul's daughter) hits for power and average: .313 with eight RBIs and four extra-base hits at the NAFA tourney.
"Samantha is in her third year with the Windmills," Paul Steinhofer said. "She's a classic first baseman with power. She had some big hits for us in the tournament."
Elyssa Hasapis hit a team-high .667 with 12 runs scored and a .933 slugging percentage, while Ava Solberg batted .533 with four extra base hits and seven stolen bases at the tourney. Both of them provided consistent offense toward the top of the order.
"Elyssa is an incredible athlete," Steinhofer said. "She is a power-hitting leadoff batter with blazing speed. She plays both catcher and shortstop very well. Ava is our No. 2 hitter. She's very versatile. Ava can lay down a bunt, hit for power, use her speed and she's also one of our top pitchers."
Defensively, outfielder Margaret Price made several glove gems in Minnesota.
"Margaret Price was a defensive star in the outfield," Steinhofer said. "She played both left and right field in various games. In the championship game, she threw a girl out at home from left field. Against the Rangers, there was a clean hit to right field but she charged the ball and threw the girl out at first."
Other contributors included utility player Julia Henderson, catcher/third baseman Julie Mattiace, pitcher Anna Topel, second baseman Sophia Leonardi, and outfielders Ali Gill and Georgia Godellas.
Mattiace is a solid line drive hitter who also plays solid defense. Leonardi is known for good defense and a strong arm. Gill and Godellas are promising young players. Topel backs up Perez in the rotation.
"Anna is developing nicely as a pitcher," Steinhofer said. "She's developing a lot of good pitches like her changeup and rise ball."
Gia Valentin contributed as an excellent two-way player for the Windmills. Her dad, Ovid, is a former OPRF and Creighton baseball player. Mike Solberg also coached Ovid when the latter was a boy.
With the exception of two players, the team is composed of Oak Park or River Forest residents.
Talent is abundant in the dugout as well for the Windmills. Veteran coaches Mike Solberg and Bruce Morgan led the team to a 37-6-2 overall record and multiple tournament titles for the spring/summer season. Solberg's granddaughter is Ava Solberg.
The Windmills won the following tournaments: NAFA Illinois Gold Spring Kickoff, Big Bash Sports Spring Bash, NSA North State and the aforementioned North American Fastpitch Association Championship Tournament. They also placed second in the Game Day USA Super Regional in Lockport.
"Mike and Bruce are an amazing combination in terms of coaching," Steinhofer said. "They have so much experience and they teach kids the game so well. We had a blend of older and younger girls. The team was successful right away, winning its first 23 games in a row. The team was clicking on all cylinders, especially when Olivia came back."
Reflective of their season, the Windmills rolled through the competition during games at the NAFA National Championship. With 42 teams from the Great Lakes area competing in the tournament, the Windmills put away a pair of teams from Minnesota by a combined score of 21-0 in pool play.
Advancing into the Gold Division of the winner's bracket, the Windmills reeled off four more wins against teams from Wisconsin and Minnesota. The defending tournament champion Rosemount Irish (from Minnesota) finally snapped the Windmills' winning streak at six games with a 3-2 win.
In their third meeting of the tournament, the Windmills defeated the Irish 6-2 to secure the championship. For the tournament, the Windmills outscored their opponents 46-8, shut out four teams and finished 7-1.
Looking ahead, several of these girls could be future players for the OPRF High School team. The Huskies won consecutive state championships in 2016 and 2017 and are a perennial state title contender under coach Mel Kolbuscz.
"Most of these girls will attend OPRF and play softball," Steinhofer said. "The Windmills have been a pipeline for OPRF softball. Most of OPRF's softball stars came from the Windmills."
River Forest 10U softball takes second in state
The River Forest 10-Under softball team finished as runner-up at the Illinois Little League State Tournament in South Elgin.
River Forest reached the state finals by winning its district tournament in convincing fashion. The team advanced through a field of 10 teams at the state tournament to reach the semifinals. Starting pitcher Ava Solberg tossed a one-hitter as River Forest edged Peru 1-0 in the semifinals.
River Forest lost to an experienced Beardstown 9-5 in the championship game.
Overall, River Forest had a 7-1 record in the Little League Tournament. Solid pitching and defense and timely hitting fueled River Forest's successful run in the playoffs.
"I am proud of our girls as they were able to put together this performance after only playing together for about three weeks," head coach Lou Leonardi said. "Some of these teams at state play together for months."
Answer Book 2018
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