14 earn softball varsity letters, dynamic duo share MVP

Fourteen members from the St. Joseph-Ogden softball program were awarded varsity letters for their contribution to this season's 22-10 record and 11th consecutive regional title.

"We graduated four seniors who made a lot contributions for the Spartans over the past four years," said first-year head coach Larry Sparks.

SJO senior Ashtyn Cromwell throws a pitch
Ashtyn Cromwell winds up for a pitch on April 8 against visiting Rantoul at Randy Wolken Field. Cromwell, who was awarded the Brittany Rodgers Award at the end of the season, pitched 57.2 innings this season and finished her final prep season 8-3 from the circle. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

This season's seniors earning varsity letters were Ashtyn Cromwell, Hannah Lewis, Katie Poulter and Savannah Smith.

Cromwell pitched 57.2 innings and closed out her final year high school softball with an 8-3 record from the circle. She was also awarded the Brittany Rogers Award.

Lewis, also a pitcher, appeared in eight games. She struck out five batters in role this spring and was winner of the Jennifer Esworthy Award.

In her 95 trips to the plate, Poulter batted a respectable .326. She was a large contributor to SJO's success recording 31 hits and scoring 28 of the team's combined 288 runs this year. She also chipped in six homers to help break the program record for home runs in a season.

The Spartan program used to be well-known for its ability to take extra bases, almost at will, to run up game scores. In this new era of SJO softball, it is players' ability to put the ball over the fence that is becoming the new trademark. The team pummeled 58 home runs this spring surpassing the previous school mark of 52 in a single season.

Smith finished her final prep season with 40 hits and knocked in 34 runs. She scored 25 runs in the 32 games she played.

Look for the Spartans to be just as sharp offensively in the 2020 season.

"We are extremely happy to be returning most of our lineup for next season," Sparks said. "We will be returning nine players who lettered and got a lot of game experience this past season."

Returning letter winners next spring will include freshmen Kennedy Hudson and Jacey Lewis, both who earned Rookie-of-the-Year recognition from the teammates. Sophomores Raegan Crippen, Sophia Martlage, Audrey Short, Lauren Trankina, and Kaylee Ward are also expected to return as juniors to make a huge impact and support the star-studded senior class.

Alabama commit Bailey Dowling, two-sport standout Hannah Dukeman and veteran pitcher Zoey Witruk, who will be seniors in just a few short months, round out the letters recipients for the season. Expectations are high that the trio will lead the Spartans to the state finals in East Peoria next June.

Dowling, who owns healthy set of IHSA home run records, and Dukeman, an explosive hitter at the plate as well, shared this year's Most-Valuable-Player Award.

"Yes, we have co-MVP’s this season," said Sparks. "Bailey Dowling had another monster offensive season while also fielding at .960. The other winner was Hannah Dukeman, who like Dowling had a monster year offensively and defensively as well."

Dukeman led the team offense putting 50 runs across the plate, scoring 52 times herself all while hitting .545 across 32 games this season. She also hit 13 home runs this spring.

Dowling is well on her way to becoming a legend in Illinois high school softball.

With her junior year in the books, Dowling has a state record and program best 65 career home runs to her credit. She has hit 21 or more home runs in a single season three consecutive times. A member of the USA Junior National Olympic team this summer, she was walked 31 times this season tying slugger Elizabeth Everingham with the same number in the St. Joseph-Ogden record book.

"They were both First Team All-State and All-Area," Sparks said, listing the duo's 2019 accolades. "They were unanimous First Team All-IPC Conference. Both were picked MVP by the players and coaches."

Dowling and Dukeman shared another award along with Savannah Smith. All three were recipients of the team's Gold Glove Award. Smith also won Most-Improved-Player recognition from her teammates and coaches.

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