A common sight so far this year: Loyola Academy’s Mercedes Delgado rounds third, trots toward home and throws her hands up to make an “X.”
But what does it mean?
Don’t overcomplicate it; it’s cool.
“It’s just a habit,” Delgado said, ruling out any particular meaning to the gesture. “I get in the groove and just cheer on my teammates. They do it too.”
In the Ramblers’ 6-4 road win over Niles West on Thursday, March 30, Delgado erased an early Wolves’ lead with a monster three-run blast to left field. It was her third home run in as many games and her fifth of the season.
What else isn’t complicated is how the senior slugger has become the Ramblers’ double-duty workhorse, taking care of business as Loyola’s top pitcher and its three-hole hitter.
A cross-fit athlete, Delgado utilizes her powerful frame to turn on pitches with remarkable quick-twitch ability.
“She’s pretty dedicated at CrossFit so she’s so strong that whenever she swings, it just pops off the bat,” Loyola coach Leah Herlocker said. “Her hands are so fast. It’s a combination that’s a deadly mix — in a good way for us.”
The confidence that comes from offseason swings and strength work has already yielded explosive results early this spring.
“I guess I just work out a lot,” Delgado said with a laugh. “I just see (the ball) — eye on the ball, practice, hard work.”
In the season opener against Plainfield South on March 20, Delgado had five hits and walloped two homers in a 9-3 win.
She has seven extra-base hits through seven games and has the Ramblers off to a 4-3 start after Thursday’s victory.
Delgado’s home run gave her team a 3-1 cushion. Maureen Kinsella drove in a run with a single in the fourth inning, and the Ramblers added insurance in the sixth with a run-scoring Sophie Wilhelm double and RBI Emilia Bartholomew single.
“We should be scoring every inning,” Herlocker said. “We should be winning every inning. That’s a goal that they made for themselves at the beginning of the year. I think it’s that discipline and accountability that they’ve got going already.”
Kinsella, who had three hits Thursday, also doubles as the team’s No. 2 hurler, a role Delgado found herself in last year as the second-in-command to current Northern Illinois pitcher Mackenzie Barry.
Delgado pitched 5 and 1/3 innings in the win, allowing 4 hits, 2 earned runs and zero walks while striking out 6.
“She’s really been so close to Mackenzie that (Mackenzie’s) almost a mentor to her in ways,” Herlocker said of Delgado. “But she’s forging a path of her own. She hits the absolute daylights out of the ball, in a way that Mackenzie did too, but almost different. The way that it moves off the bat is different. It’s more electric. Mackenzie was such a solid leader for us and (Delgado’s) stepping up into that role.”
Lily Moran added two hits for the Ramblers.
Delgado, Moran, Ally Walsh, Eileen Hein and Bella Mulvaney are all seniors who started against the Wolves.
“We’re really close. I feel like we communicate a lot,” Delgado said. “Us seniors, we stick together. We sit next to each other. We communicate with each other. We’re basically family.”
Niles West’s Lesley Mueller, the opposing starting pitcher, put Niles West up in the second inning with a solo homer to left. The Wolves did not score again until the sixth, plating two runs and then one last run on the final play of the game.
The Ramblers have a challenging slate of games on the horizon with consecutive road games against Montini Catholic, Providence Catholic and Mother McAuley before returning home on April 11 vs. St. Laurence.