Prairie Fire softball aims to make a conference splash this weekend, as it faces Lake Forest College following a non-conference game against Cornell College on Thursday, April 17. The team looks to tighten its game following the cancellation of the Midwest Conference Classic, a two-day, six team round robin event that puts earnable points on the field for the team to grab. In missing the tournament, the players will have had nine days off, which is tough when playing a game where consistency is so paramount.
“I have no real expectations for Thursday,” said coach Jami Strinz. “I just want to get some people some playing time for Saturday, so we can come back with two more conference wins.”
The team currently sits behind Lake Forest at second in the South Division with a good chance here to play catch up on the Foresters.
“They will be two tough games,” said Strinz. “They have a similar playing style as us, relying on their offense. We just need to bear down, play some defense and pitch. They rely a lot more on their hitting. We have more of a total package coming into it.”
Currently Knox sits first in the conference in batting average at .400 for the team, a very close fifth in ERA with 3.15, and second in fielding. Lake Forest is first in ERA at 2.50.
At the start of the season, which started with a spring trip to Los Angeles, Calif., the team hit a bit of a dry spell at the plate, and are just now pulling themselves out of it. Senior first baseman Monyca Fisher is first to admit her own struggles and has taken steps to improve.
“I spend more time at batting practice. Plus, I’ve made a lot of little adjustments, moving closer to the plate, getting a wider stance to see the ball better. We were already bringing it together at the Monmouth game, so we should be okay,” she said.
The peak is coming at just the right time, as conference competition is starting in earnest. Six of the next eight games are Southern Division contests. The team is looking very sharp in all aspects, and coach Strinz is excited to see where it will end up.
“We’ve improved every day we’ve played,” she said. “If we continue to do it, nobody will be able to touch us at the end of the season. Our pitching has greatly improved, limiting hits, runs, walks. We haven’t made the same mistake twice.”
With it only being the first season Strinz has coached here, expectations were moderate, but many hope she will exceed them.
“There have definitely been some improvements,” said senior left fielder Kate Schneider. “The team is real focused on these Lake Forest games, and missing the games last weekend didn’t hurt, we needed some rest anyway. We’ve been working hard for this weekend. We’ve seen these pitchers before, too, so we know what to work on.” Schneider and the other seniors have helped the coach to integrate the freshmen into the team, which Strinz sees as a real strength.
“The seniors really help to lead the younger players,” said Strinz. “They keep [the freshmen] right on their heels. Our depth is a real strength too.”
She said that the seniors are playing on a high level, in order to make a statement in their last year.
“The older players are really in it to win it. It’s about who is playing their hardest,” she said.
With two wins this weekend, the team moves into a great position for the playoffs, and to hear coach Strinz tell it, being there is inevitable. The team has been looking its sharpest all season, as they get ready for the big playoff push. Hopefully those seniors can end on a high note, and the freshmen can get that winning feeling and carry it into next year.