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Diamonds in the Dirt: Morton masks up its infield for safety on the softball field

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This is a generational debate. There are two points of view and not a third.

Arguments on the topic of whether softball players should wear face masks depends on when you were born and when you played or play the game.

Old timers believe you show weakness by walking onto the field with a protective mask covering your face. But with years and years of girls getting hit with dangerous consequences, the landscape is changing.

Last fall the Kentucky High School Athletic Association made it mandatory that all pitchers, first basemen and third basemen wear facial protection in all high school games.

"I think it's a good thing," Crown Point coach Pete Iussig said when Kentucky made its move. "The bats are getting stronger. The girls are getting stronger. There isn't much reaction time."

On Wednesday, I covered the Gavit at Morton game, a big contest in the Great Lakes Athletic Conference. I saw something I'd never seen before. And when you're as old as Noah's toes, that's saying something.

Morton's entire infield was wearing a mask.

The times they are a'chang'n.

Two Governors played third, Meagan Benson and Jasmine Shreve. Alyssa Madera played shortstop. Lily Cazares was in the circle. Raquel Coles was at second. And Allison Hathaway played first base.

The group had worn masks for 33 years combined.

"I wear it because I got hit in the face with a ball," Benson said.

"I wear one because I don't want to get hit," Shreve said.

Morton coach Penny Bensinger said she isn't sure which way to lean on this topic. In the old days, she didn't wear one and no one else did either. But she said she umpires youth ball in local communities where the mandatory thing is commonplace.

"I think it makes the girls feel more safe and more confident," Bensinger said.

The Govs agreed with that summation.

"My parents and coaches encouraged me to wear one when I was younger," Hathaway said.

"I started seeing the older girls wearing them when I was younger so I just followed them," Coles said.

"Being a pitcher, I didn't want to get hit," Cazares said.

"It just gives me more confidence," Madera added.

I am a fan of those in the infield wearing protective head gear. I've seen too much blood and bruises over the years.

'No, I am not'

+5 
Munster's Rebecca Radtke is not related to Russ Radtke

Former Griffith head coach Russ Radtke, left, led the Panthers to the 1997 Class 4A state championship. Munster softball player Rebecca Radtke said she gets asked all the time if she is related to the legendary football coach. She is not.

Munster shortstop Rebecca Radtke could retire if she had a dollar every time she's been asked the following question: "Are you related to Russ?"

Many have asked her since she has the same last name of legendary football coach Russ Radtke, who coached at Griffith from 1993 through 2011. He is now at New Prairie, building another juggernaut out east.

But Rebecca said most of her family is from Illinois and there is no family relationship.

"I get asked that all the time," Rebecca said with a smile. "And I say the same thing all the time. No, I am not."

Moving pains

Nicole (Terpstra) Wondaal is one of the Region's greatest pitchers of all time. The Highland native attended Illiana Christian.

She led the Vikings to the state finals in 1993 as a sophomore and 1995 as a senior. Then, it was off to DePaul.

And what she did with the Blue Demons was off the charts. She took DePaul to the 1999 NCAA College World Series, finishing third, which is very rare for a northern team.

Now, she is back coaching at her alma mater, which is about to make history of its own.

Illiana Christian is moving to Indiana, just south of "Shoe Corner," this summer. The school has been in the IHSA for 70 years. But the IHSAA has a four-year waiting period before a new school is allowed to participate in postseason play.

That could be an issue for future athletes attending or hoping to attend the school.

"We can't apply for (IHSAA) membership until we have (building) occupancy," Wondaal said. "So we're trying to hurry and get into the new building by early summer so we can apply for membership and then file an appeal."

Illiana feels they are in a unique situation. They believe they are the first high school in American history that has moved from one state to another.

"We're hoping to get a reduction in the waiting period," Wondaal said.

Of her 12 players on the roster this season, eight are from Indiana.

She said it is possible a softball field will be put up on the school property by next spring, but if it isn't done the Vikings will play their home games at nearby Midwest Training & Ice Center in St. John.

Illiana is also looking for a conference, which is difficult because the school does not have a football team.

Wondaal said they will play a few old rivalries next season like T.F. South, Chicago Christian and Marian Catholic, but she's contacting as many Indiana schools as possible to fill up next year's schedule.

"We just have to show our personality to the Indiana schools," she said. "We pride ourselves with honesty and being up front and doing things the right way. We do not recruit athletes.

"That's not what this school is about."

Wondaal and her family live in Crown Point, so the 50-minute drive will be reduced to 15 once the school is opened this summer.

Payback is a switch

Last Saturday Munster bused down to Wheatfield and beat Kankakee Valley 6-5 in what looked like a major upset at the time.

The Kougars had been undefeated. Then they lost to Lowell as well on Monday.

Was the ship starting to take on some water?

Well, no Titanic tales here.

Since the Lowell loss coach Brian Flynn's team has won four straight, including a 13-0 six-inning win at Munster on Friday. Emma Maple was 3 for 4 with five RBIs and three runs scored. She also only allowed two hits with six strikeouts in picking up the win.

Madey Flick had three hits with two RBIs and three runs scored. Maddie Swart had the same batting line. Kendall Winnick, and Ashley Fisher also added RBIs.

Now, the Northwest Crossroads Conference race is all up in the air.

K.V., Munster and Lowell all have two losses apiece.

The swinging Wildcats

Hanover Central had an offensive week to say the least.

On Monday in a 17-2 win against Whiting, Alyssa Albrecht went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and three runs scored. Taylor Towry was 3 for 4 with four RBIs and two runs. Leah Mokos was 3 for 4 with four RBIs and two runs. Ashtyn Barnett was 3 for 3 with two RBIs. And Camryn Veteto was 3 for 4 with two runs scored.

The next day at home, also against the Oilers in a 13-3 win, Albrecht went 1 for 1 with two runs scored. Barnett was 1 of 3 with a RBI and run. Veteto was 1 of 2 with two runs. And Towry went 3 for 3 with two RBIs and two runs scored.

And in Friday's 14-13 loss at Portage, it was more of the same. Michayla Ferguson was 3 for 3 with two RBIs. Madison Miller was 2 for 3 with a two-run homer. Towry was 2 for 2 with two RBIs.

Can anyone slow these sticks down?

+5 
Selena Michko, Lake Central

Lake Central's Selena Michko had a monster week at the plate for the Indians, who beat Chesterton, Portage and Penn. She is the Diamonds in the Dirt Player of the Week.

Player of the Week

Lake Central's Selena Michko had a keeper of a week for sure. In a 1-0 win over Chesterton, Michko was 1 for 2 with the game's only RBI. Next, in a 4-2 win against Portage, she knocked in two runs.

And in Friday's 5-2 win over Penn, Michko was 3 for 4 with a double, home run and three RBIs.

This is just flat out raking.

Consequently, Michko is the Diamonds in the Dirt Player of the Week. Way to go young lady.

Polling the State

With the level of talent in the Region, it is no doubt we were well represented in this week's state polls. Well done ladies.

In Class A, South Central was No. 5 and Morgan Township was No. 7, even though the Cherokees beat the Satellites already. Someone's throwing darts at the wall.

In Class 2A, Boone Grove is at No. 3. The Wolves are the only area team on the list.

There are no area teams getting any votes in Class 3A.

And in Class 4A, Crown Point is No. 2, Lake Central is No. 6 and Chesterton is No. 7. Munster and Kankakee Valley are getting votes as well.

Keep it rolling girls. Keep showing the state what you're made of.

Love and Prayers

+5 
Pete Iussig, Crown Point

Crown Point softball coach Pete Iussig

Wanted to take a final moment to show some support to Crown Point coach Pete Iussig, whose father passed away last week.

In doing this job for so many years I've spent many minutes talking to Pete and often he told great stories about his dad.

You and your family are in my prayers, coach. I lost my beloved mother in November, so I understand your pain.

Remember all those great stories and smile. I am sure there are diamonds in heaven and your dad is in the bleachers watching a game.

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Sports Reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.