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    Taking charge. That is Oswego’s Kiyah Chavez, the 2024 Beacon-News/Courier-News Softball Player of the Year.

    By Rick Armstrong, Chicago Tribune,

    2024-06-13

    The numbers don’t lie.

    Piling up statistics — generally, the higher the better — tends to go a long way toward collecting postseason honors in softball. And Oswego’s Kiyah Chavez has received her fair share.

    The junior catcher’s line was impressive as she batted .496 with a single-season program record 61 hits, 27 runs, nine walks, four stolen bases, 10 doubles, one triple, 12 home runs and 46 RBIs.

    Even more impressive, however, was another number the 2024 Beacon-News/Courier-News Player of the Year put up on the stat sheet.

    It read zero, zip, zilch, nada.

    That’s how many times the Iowa commit struck out in 138 plate appearances in 39 games this season as the Panthers (29-10) made school history with a third-place finish in Class 4A.

    “At our awards night this week, my assistant Nick Schaeflein mentioned that stat, and you could hear a very articulate gasp from a number of people in the crowd, especially anybody who had ever played a season of fast-pitch softball,” Oswego coach Paul Netzel said.

    “Zero strikeouts in a season? That’s something I could hardly believe. My first thought was it has to be a mistake.”

    At least one person in the crowd wasn’t surprised.

    “I was aware of it,” Chavez said. “I’ve never been one to strike out a lot. Last year, I think I had five, and it was one of my goals this season to make it three or less.”

    She did it.

    “Something I was taught to do at a young age was try to do everything you can to be productive in an at-bat,” she said. “Nothing productive happens with a strikeout. Try to put the ball in play. Even if you ground out, hit a fly ball or even pop up, you can move runners up.”

    Entrenched as the third hitter in the order late in the season, Chavez did it well for Oswego, even if it meant resorting to so-called “small ball” from a spot in the lineup many believe should be reserved for one of a team’s big hitters.

    Chavez kept her head in the game and utilized all options.

    In her first two at-bats during a 5-0 sectional semifinal win over Wheaton Warrenville South, she launched sacrifice flies into the teeth of a strong wind blowing in from center field.

    In supersectional and third-place wins over Minooka and Mundelein, respectively, Oswego’s first two hitters successfully reached base and Chavez followed by laying down bunt singles.

    In fact, she has a penchant for that play.

    “I’ve liked to bunt for a really long time,” Chavez said. “I was a slow kid, but bunting and slapping are such an art — like a game within a game. Sometimes, I wish I was a slapper.

    “Bunting is so fun, though, because you can play with the placement of the ball. It’s like a high-energy play, with everyone racing to get the ball and you running.”

    Early in the season on the team’s trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, Netzel remembered Chavez using the squeeze bunt — against his wishes — to win a game.

    “We had runners on third and second with one out,” Chavez recalled.

    As she approached the batter’s box, the umpire announced she would be the last batter due to the game’s time limit.

    Third base coach Tiffany Murphy wanted Chavez to squeeze bunt and Netzel wanted her to swing away.

    While they were discussing it, Chavez stepped into the box, nodded at junior outfielder Bella Lisle , who nodded back from third base, and laid down a perfectly placed game-winner.

    “Kiyah in charge,” Netzel said. “She’s good at taking charge.”

    He said on visits to the mound, he often has messages he’ll use to calm down his players. During the Class 4A third–place game in Peoria, Chavez came through instead on such a visit.

    “I told them to take a deep breath,” Netzel said. “Kiyah turns to me and said, ‘Hey dog, I got this. You should probably go back to the dugout because we’ve got some bad words to say and I know you don’t like to hear that.’”

    Netzel took a stroll and the team finished the job.

    It’s all part of the plan for Chavez.

    “I’m pretty social, always talking,” she said. “Even at school, I know a lot of people. I talk to everyone, even the grownups like the resource officer, librarian, teachers.

    “I think that’s why ‘Netz’ responds to me as a person, even when we get in arguments from time to time.”

    Kiyah’s in charge, and she has one season left.

    “We have a few (graduation) losses but we’re gonna be tough again,” she said.

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