Chambers continues assault on softball record book

Molly Chambers continued her assault on the Evanston softball record book as the regular season concluded for the Wildkits Saturday against Lakes Community.

The junior standout’s career resume is already an impressive one and no one knows what the final numbers --- hitting and pitching --- will look like.

But if you’re in a fantasy softball league, she’d be the Mike Trout you want to draft next year.

Chambers set a single game school record with 17 strikeouts in the circle in Game 1 of that doubleheader, then bashed 2 more home runs to add to her career record total as the Kits improved to 15-9 on the year with the 7-1 and 17-8 victories.

Only one softball player in ETHS history --- Stacie Walton --- has been selected to the school’s Hall of Fame to date. And Chambers has already surpassed her on the career home run list (with 23 so far) and is only 21 runs-batted-in shy of beating out Walton in that department, too.

As a pitcher, Chambers owns the mark for career wins (38), strikeouts (565) and erased the previous high of 16 strikeouts in a single game by Marlene Kluss back in 1998. Kluss also set the single season mark for K’s that year at 158 --- until Chambers topped that total in 2017 (216).

And she’s still got part of her junior year --- the Wildkits begin what they hope will be a deep postseason push Wednesday at the Class 4A Evanston Regional tournament --- and all of her senior season to add onto those numbers.

“I’m not surprised at the year she’s having, not by any means,” said ETHS head coach Amy Gonzales. “She’s such a strong kid. I don’t think she’s doing anything different from last year. She’s just found the groove of what works for her.

“She probably should have had 3 home runs on Saturday, not just 2. They have an odd fence alignment at Lakes (205 feet in the corners, 230 in the gaps but just 200 to center field) and she hit one off the fence in the first game.”

On the year, Chambers is batting .474 with 9 home runs and an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 1.450 that even Trout would settle for.  She leads a potent Wildkit attack with 27 RBI, too.

Not bad for someone the ETHS coaching staff used to use a designated hitter for when she took a turn as a pitcher as a freshman. Former head coach Katie Perkins wanted to keep the pressure off Chambers as a first-year player, but she still hit a couple of home runs and batted .367 when she did get the chance to swing a bat.

Her 13-7 record in the circle this spring includes 189 strikeouts in 124 innings pitched and an earned run average of 2.60.

Gonzales, in her first year at the helm at ETHS, was an assistant coach when Chambers first came on the scene and she’s seen the maturation and growth in the 5-foot-11 right-hander every single day.

“Her freshman year she had some ups and downs offensively,” Gonzales recalled, “but I think she started to get more comfortable as a sophomore. And her first two years we had some great senior leadership, so she didn’t have to take on that role. This year she’s taken on more of a leadership role and I think that adds to what she’s doing in the circle for us.

“She has better command of her pitches now and I think she’s more composed, too. She’s only had one day this whole season when it wasn’t her day (a lopsided loss to Glenbrook South) and I think she’s hitting her spots a lot more efficiently this year.”

No team in the Niles West Sectional complex is hotter than the Wildkits, who have won 12 of their last 14 games. And it hasn’t been a 1-person show by Chambers that has delivered that streak, either.

Senior first baseman Lucy Hart has been on fire all year with a robust .617 batting average, backed up by Chambers (.474), Chloe Haack (.400 average, 24 runs scored) and Zoe Canafax (.457, 25 RBI).

Following a dismal start to the spring, the Kits have earned the No. 9 sectional seed. Their turnaround began after spring break, when Gonzales decided to shift the versatile Haack from catcher to shortstop, and installed freshman Katie Patton behind the plate.

Haack has stabilized the Evanston infield --- team errors are way down --- and Patton has shown promise despite struggling at times against more experienced pitchers. She’s hitting .309 on the season.

“Chloe is the best infielder we have, although she’s a great catcher, too,” said Gonzales of the mid-season move. “She’s been the anchor to our infield and we’re much better and stronger with her at short. We knew Katie had ability and she just needed a lot more reps. We’ve seen a lot of growth in Katie. She’s improved a lot. She and Molly have started working together outside of our practices --- and it was their idea, not mine.

“Our hitting and our pitching have fallen into place, but defense is the one piece you could say we haven’t truly mastered yet. When you make mistakes against very good teams, it’s not easy then to play with your backs to the wall. We’ll have to be on top of our game for the regional.”

Evanston opens Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. at home versus No. 8 seed Fenton. Also assigned to the regional is the No. 1 sectional seed, perennial power Oak Park-River Forest, which is favored to advance to Friday's 4:30 p.m. championship game.

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