Kavanagh surprises herself while becoming one of IHSA’s all-time home run leaders

Emma Kavanagh never imagined becoming a home run queen who would threaten to become the best in IHSA state history.

“I never would’ve guessed I would end up being so close to the record,” said the four-year Barrington catcher who will play at national power Arizona. “Growing up, my dad (Tom) has always repeated the same few words: ‘stand up doubles’. That was always something that stuck with me, and remained in my mind. Home runs entered at times, but never any records like that.”

Well, for the record, Kavanagh has stood up to the best and wound up just one homer shy (64) of tying the IHSA career record set by St. Joseph-Ogden shortstop and current Alabama third baseman Bailey Dowling who clubbed 65 from 2017 to 2019.

But the long ball was hardly the only weapon that separated her from the rest as a four-time All-American catcher who earned so many accolades for her defensive prowess.

“She swings the bat but what impresses me about her is her defense,” said Hononegah veteran coach Dennis McKinney, whose team fell to Barrington in the sectional semifinal. “You look at the way she circles on bunts and the way she comes through. She sets all the angles correctly. That’s something you learn as a young kid and just keep working on your skills set.“

Huntley coach Mark Petryniec has also seen plenty of Kavanagh the last four year.

“We weren’t going to steal a base (vs. Kavanagh),” he said after a dramatic win over the Fillies in the Barrington sectional. “We knew even on their turf we’re too slow for her. We knew her pop-up time. She’s great. Competing against her the last four years, I think she’s going to have an awesome college career and I can’t wait to see her at the next level.”

This spring, Kavanagh had a 1.000 fielding percentage with 173 putouts, 18 assists she threw out eight out of 10 runners trying to steal.

Combine her extraordinary receiving talents with 12 team-leading offensive categories this spring and 10 career school records, you have one of the most electrifying captains the Daily Herald Cook County All-Area team has seen.

Named the Barrington High School Female Athlete of the Year, Kavanagh helped the Fillies compete in three Mid-Suburban League championships (winning two) and two trips to the state finals in her illustrious career.

Kavanagh batted .521 this spring with 20 home runs, 58 RBI, 52 hits, 11 doubles, 2 triples and 27 walks.

“Emma had one of the greatest offensive seasons in Fillies softball history,” said Barrington coach Perry Peterson, a hall of famer with 971 victories.

So what was the secret to her home run power?

“Being calm, or as Coach P says ‘keeping your truck tires at the right tire pressure, not adding too much,’” Kavanagh said. “Being calm was something I would ride a wave with. I’d have times where I was calm in the box and other times I was too juiced. I am always striving to be more consistent with my approach and keep my emotions in check and I did that with a lot of practice.”

Kavanagh has been practicing her catching skills since about the age of five.

“I like being able to be a part of all of the plays, being a spark for my pitcher and of course close plays at the plate,“ Kavanagh said. “I wanted to catch because catchers are the commanders of the field and involved in every pitch. I like to see everything in front of me and be ready to call out defensive adjustments.

“Catchers are also a good crutch at times for pitchers, and I like that responsibility. You would be surprised how often a pitcher needs a pep talk or even a smile to calm them down.”

And when Kavanagh needed that little pep talk, she had plenty of people to go to such as her mother (Lisa), father, Jenna Horcher (former Barrington assistant coach), Gerry Quinn (Illinois Chill travel) and Peterson.

“All five have played tremendous roles in my playing career and have made me the player I am today,” Kavanagh said. “My dad and mom had to sacrifice a lot to get me to all the places this sport took me. I have four other siblings so it was always a challenge to get me to the games, camps, practices and lessons.

“Jenna Horcher was my first coach. She was the one who gave me my hitting/catching technique foundation and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Gerry Quinn has been and will continue to be a significant coach in my life. He provided me with knowledge on the field but more importantly off the field. Without him, I would not be anywhere near where I am now as a player and a person.”

Peterson, the Station Campus mIddle school softball coach, competed against Kavanagh when she starred at Prairie Campus in IESA circles.

Peterson said Kavanagh was the only batter at the middle school level that opponents would defend her with their outfielders standing on the warning track.

“Perry Peterson was a polisher,” said Kavanagh, the 13th different Barrington player named a Daily Herald softball captain. “I was raised around Coach P and his camps. Growing up to play high school sotfball under him was truly amazing. Something that he has done was made our practices impactful. There was no wasted time and we took practice as seriously as any game and it has prepared me for travel, college and whatever my future holds.”

One high school moment Kavanagh will always remember is when the Fillies rallied from a 5-run deficit to top Huntley in the 2022 sectional championship.

“And I will always remember our team sleepovers, dinners and extra practice time together after hours. After-hour practices were a way to unplug and just clear your mind and I absolutely loved those moments.”

Kavanagh can’t wait to get to Arizona, where she will study nutrition and human performance (exercise science) with a minor in Spanish.

“I picked it because I want to work with people and athletes in the future,” she said.

Among her favorite college softball players are Jenna Horcher, Amanda Lorenz and Deja Mulipola.

“I saw Deja catch before I knew Arizona was my future home,” Kavanagh said. “I saw her at an Athletes Unlimited game and just knew she was going to be my idol. Jenna Horcher was a catcher at Illinois and became my first travel coach. Once I found out her background, I watched plenty of her film on YouTube as a kid. I met Amanda Lorenz (Florida first baseman) at a camp and fell in love with her style of play and personality.”

Kavanagh chose Arizona for multiple reasons.

“The rich history its sports teams hold, the weather and softball program,” she said. “I felt like they understood how I was wired and I could be myself.”

And they were getting a nationally-ranked prospect which Kavanagh had to deal with.

“It was a roller coaster of emotions and easy to get caught up in when you are young,” she said. “Of course I loved the attention but it got into my head a little bit, too. I was lucky to be surrounded by a great support staff and they helped me understand that the rankings mean nothing if you don’t play well and respect the game.”

And not many played the game as well as Kavanagh did in a Barrington uniform.

“My time (here) was absolutely amazing,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The atmosphere, community, and facilities are something a lot of players will never experience. I had the opportunity to play in front of hundreds of people and it never got old. Our community showed up for us every game of my career and I look forward to coming back and seeing the legacy continue.

“Coach Peterson is an incredibly dedicated coach and the rest of the coaches are special to me as well. I started on Barrington fields as a little kid and got to walk off our incredible new varsity field with only amazing memories and for that I am thankful.”

Barrington catcher Emma Kavanagh grits her teeth as she braces to tag out Hersey’s Gabby Felman on a throw from left fielder Harlow Engel in a softball game in Barrington on Monday, April 29, 2024.
John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.com
Barrington’s Emma Kavanagh had plenty to smile about the four last years including playing in two statetournaments and hitting .521 this spring with 58 RBI.
John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.com
Barrington’s Emma Kavanagh is all smiles after hitting a home run in the first inning of Monday’s game against Palatine.
Paul Valade/pvalade@dailyherald.com
Barrington’s Emma Kavanagh reacts after hitting a 2-run double against Elk Grove in a game in Elk Grove Village on Tuesday.
John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.com

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