Sports / The Prairie Fire / March 4, 2010

Youth both strength and weakness

Knox’s softball team had an overall record of 3-29 and 0-13 in Midwest Conference play last season.

This season should turn out differently as long as the team accomplishes a couple of goals — reducing the number of errors and getting runners on base — while not worrying about what the competition is doing.

“We really don’t have a lot of room for errors period, let alone quite a few per game. We are going to have to really focus on that,” said first-year head coach Ashley Sims. “At the same time, being aggressive at the plate. We are going to have to get some runs. Last year, we struggled a little bit. We were not able to produce and get runs. We are going to have to get people on the bases; that is definitely something we are pushing for. … We are really going to have to focus on ourselves and take care of what we are in control of, really being able to stay focused for a full two games.”

Staying focused and eliminating errors will be a challenge for the Prairie Fire, thanks to the team’s youth. The team consists of four seniors, one junior, six sophomores and three freshmen.

“We are a little bit of a young team,” Sims said. “We have had to put some people in some positions that they may not have either done for a while or haven’t done period. We are trying to make those adjustments and so far it is going well. They’ve been coming to practice, working hard and doing what we have been asking of them.”

However, though the sheer number of upperclassmen might portray a lack of leadership, the four seniors have shown that leadership comes in quality, not quantity.

“I’m not really surprised by this but our seniors have done a great job being leaders and being vocal so far,” Sims said. “That has been important for us. They have been doing a great job — all our seniors with that.”

Rounding out the group is a group of versatile, hardworking freshmen who have, according to Sims, made the transition to college softball in stride to this point.

“Our freshmen coming in have been doing well and have given us more options as far as what we can do,” Sims said. “They have had some nice plays and done some nice things.

“We are just going to keep working hard, making adjustments as needed. Then hopefully stay strong and tough — be focused through a full game, especially in those double headers.”

Split in the Dragon Dome

The Prairie Fire softball team opened its season last Saturday with a double header against MacMurray College indoors in the Pekin Dragon Dome.

MacMurray scored first, putting two on the board in the first inning, but the Prairie Fire chipped away, scoring one in the bottom half and one in the second to tie it up. The game remained tied at 2-2 until the sixth inning, when the Prairie Fire scored four to pull away from the Highlanders.

MacMurray would creep one run closer in the seventh to bring the score to 6-3, but could edge no closer. Freshman Brittany Wisniewski was 1-3 with a double and three RBI’s. Sophomores Bri Collishaw and Beth McRill each had doubles, with McRill driving in an RBI. Seniors Regina Cloyd and Cory Bieber drove in the remaining two runs. Collishaw pitched the complete game and recorded her first win of the 2010 season, giving up three runs (none earned) on five hits while fanning four.

“The first one was nice. I felt like they came out hard and ready to go,” Sims said. “They were pretty aggressive and pretty tuned into the game. I was pretty happy with that.”

The error bug that Sims had feared bit the Fire especially hard in the nightcap as the team recorded the game’s first error on just the second play of the game. Defenses continued to struggle throughout as the teams combined to commit 10 total errors. Driving in runs in the second game for the Prairie Fire were senior Cassie Milleville and Collishaw. Milleville notched two RBIs on a two run double in the first inning. Collishaw hit her second double in as many games in the third inning and notched her first RBI in the sixth. However, the Prairie Fire’s poor defensive play helped push the game to the Highlanders, who took the nightcap, 8-3.

“Second one, there was a little bit of a difference. I felt like we lost a little bit of our focus there,” Sims said. “You know the second game had quite a few more errors. One of their big innings we should have had two outs before anyone got on base. Take away those errors, and it could have been a different situation. We are going to have to work on that.”

Still, despite the letdown in the second game, Sims’ optimism is very apparent.

“Everything is going well so far. They are working hard. It was nice to get in that double header in the Pekin Dome. It can get long and tedious practicing for four to six weeks before going on spring break. It was a little bit of difference going in. The field surface was a little different,” she said. “I thought everybody did a nice job in our first double header. I’m looking forward to spring break, getting some more games in and getting ready for conference.”

The Prairie Fire returns to a nine day hiatus until the team’s spring break trip to Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Matthew Wheaton

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