RIVERSIDE — The Bulldogs won't have the powerful bats of Becky Mantel and Kiley Rusen, who combined for 47 extra base hits last year, but coach John Vermillion says this is his fastest team in three years coaching the varsity team.
Returning starters Emily Hastings, Emma Schander and Jasmine Castaneda each stole a few bases last year, but most of the speed will come from new starters Grace Cody and Lana Herrmann.
"Grace and Lana are the two fastest girls I've had in my three years," Vermillion said.
Cody, a junior, is a slap hitter that will play center field. Herrmann, a sophomore, saw some time last season and will play in right.
Throw in freshman second baseman Kendall Hastings, Emily's younger sister, and the new blood has Vermillion excited for the season.
"Her range at second base is probably one of the best I've ever coached," the coach said. "She can cover ground. I was impressed with her lateral movement."
Vermillion plans to be more aggressive on the base paths to take advantage of the speed the Bulldogs have as well as make up for some of the power they lost. Emily Hastings had 17 extra base hits last season, and Ashlee Haugh had 12 so there is still some pop in the middle of the order.
On the mound, Katie O'Connell will take over for her older sister, Kylie. Last year, Katie had a 2.55 ERA and a 7-0 record that included wins over York, Lyons Township and Crystal Lake South.
"I think she's got the capability to be a good, sturdy No. 1 pitcher this year," Vermillion said.
RB has already had a few games canceled thanks to cold weather. But once they do get playing, Vermillion thinks his team can sneak under the radar. Defending Class 3A state champion Glenbard South will yet again be the heavy favorite in the Metro Suburban Conference, but RB figures to be the Raiders' top competition.
"I don't know that the expectations will be as high as the last year or two, but I'm excited about this team," Vermillion said. "I think we'll surprise some people this year."
The Bulldogs will play all home games at Veteran's Park in North Riverside. They played some home games there last season, but made the move full-time to avoid scheduling conflicts at RB.
Meet the Bulldogs
Coach: John Vermillion
2012 record: 26-8 (9-3 Metro Suburban)
Emily Hastings sr. C
Ashlee Haugh sr. 1B
Katie O'Connell so. P
Emma Schander sr. 3B
First game: 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Queen of Peace
.465: Batting average for Southern Illinois-Edwardsville-signee Emily Hastings to go with 42 RBIs last season