Sophomore softball player realizes her potential


Sophomore softball outfielder Jessica Rio considers how far she has come since being on the Blue Jays at 10 years old. Rio is second on the team in batting average.

By Krystal Megan

DeKALB — A private party room at Aurelio’s Pizza was filled with blue balloons and about 15 kids, as sophomore softball outfielder Jessica Rio’s recreational softball team, the Blue Jays, celebrated the end of their season. This was the moment Rio began to take softball seriously.

As 10-year-old Rio and her father were leaving the party room, Rio’s coach mentioned to them how much he believed in the young outfielder’s talent, and he could envision reading about her in newspapers one day.

It was the last time Rio saw her Blue Jays coach, but his words inspired Rio to explore a talent she hadn’t given much attention to before.

Senior first baseman Kayti Grable said the sky’s the limit for Rio, and she has seen Rio develop so much over the past two years that she can’t imagine what’s next for the sophomore.

“With her work ethic and her attitude, she can really do whatever she wants,” Grable said.

Grable called Rio a “triple threat” as a slapper — hitting the ball to particular spots in the infield furthest away from where the out needs to be made — because she can do all three aspects of it so well.

The outfielder’s been slapping the ball since high school, and last year she would mix hitting, slapping or putting a bunt down. This year, since she’s more confident in her slap, it’s been all slapping for the sophomore.

Instead of standing in the box and swinging, Rio crosses over the batter’s box when swinging the bat to appear as if she’s running toward the pitcher. Rio said it’s almost like giving the runner a head start.

Depending on the defense, Rio will soft-slap or hard-slap to either put the ball in front or over the head of the defense.

Rio’s slapping has allowed her to become second on the team in batting average (.340) this season behind Grable (.389).

She’s also second on the team in hits (50) behind Grable (58), and she’s second on the team in runs scored (34) behind senior middle infielder Kali Kossakowski (36).

Rio ranks third in on-base percentage behind Grable (.469) and Kossakowski (.424) with a .409 percentage.

Being on base leads to more opportunities for steals, and Rio is second on the team behind Kossakowski (15) in stolen bases with 12.

As for what changed for Rio as she transitioned into her sophomore year, her head coach Christina Sutcliffe said she matured as a softball player.

“Her freshman year, she was a little bit of a fish out of water and trying to figure it all out and figure out where her place was,” Sutcliffe said. “Now I think she has the confidence that she’s going to get [the job] done, and it doesn’t surprise her anymore.”