The careers of Cary-Grove pitcher Lindsay Efflandt and Prairie Ridge pitcher Kirsten Stevens follow an eerily similar path.
Efflandt and Stevens, both seniors, are entering their fourth season on varsity for their respective teams. They are arguably the area’s top two pitchers and both will continue their softball careers at the Division I level – Efflandt at Yale, Stevens at Mercer – once, each hopes, a Fox Valley Conference Valley Division title is added to her resumé at season’s end.
“If I was a spectator, absolutely it would be fun to watch them pitch against each other,” Wolves coach Mike Buck said.
Yet for all that Efflandt and Stevens have in common from the gaudy numbers to standout careers, their close friendship off the field defies the on-field battles between the equally fierce competitors.
“It’s a bit funny because I want to say, ‘Hey Lindsay, what’s up?’ and then I realize, oh, I better hit the ball now or I have to strike her out,” Stevens said laughing.
While they occasionally met on the softball diamond early in their high school careers, Efflandt and Stevens crossed paths when they played together on the Northern Ice travel team during their sophomore year. Through all the travel team practices and games, they got to know one another and since have become close friends. They still play together and currently are on the Illinois Chill.
That friendship is sometimes hard to leave behind when they step onto the field during FVC Valley play.
“I’ll text her before a game and be like, ‘See you tomorrow,’ ” Efflandt said. “It’s not like, ‘We’re going to beat you guys.’ It’s not really like that with us, which is interesting because we’ve played together so long. [Stevens] is phenomenal and I’m excited to play against her because she’s one of the best pitchers around.”
Friendship aside, Efflandt and Stevens are eager to lead the Trojans and Wolves, respectively, to atop the FVC Valley with deep postseason runs. And for that to happen, C-G and Prairie Ridge will need stellar performances from their marquee pitchers.
“She makes me look a whole lot smarter,” Wolves coach Mike Buck said of Stevens. “To have a pitcher of this caliber, you know she’s going to give you a great performance each night, so that’s one thing you aren’t concern about.”
Stevens is coming off an impressive year having posted a 1.29 ERA with an area-best 319 strikeouts. Efflandt enters the season with eye-popping career numbers: a 79-13 record and 664 strikeouts with a .342 average, 81 RBIs, 16 doubles and 12 home runs. Should she stay healthy, Efflandt will set a new C-G record for most career strikeouts.
“We come together as a team, we play together as a team,” C-G coach Tammy Olson said. “If it becomes a team, then Lindsay will benefit as much as everyone else. It’s not an individual sport, it is a team sport so we have to continue to work together because when she pitches well, the defense plays well.”
C-G or Prairie Ridge won’t have an easy path to a division title. McHenry, which tied C-G for first in the FVC Valley and beat the Trojans twice last season, returns several starters, including its top pitcher, sophomore Kristin Koepke. In the FVC Fox, Crystal Lake Central is eager to improve on its second-place finish and will be aided by pitching depth and versatility in the field.
Marengo again features a loaded lineup that will be a tough matchup for any Big Northern Conference East Division team. Led by senior pitcher Bethany Hart, junior catcher Taylor Carlson and senior third baseman Stephanie Cartwright, the Indians are vying for their third consecutive appearance at state after a Class 3A state title in 2011 and last year’s runner-up finish.