With an 18-day break between games, Calumet College’s softball team is eager for the third and most important leg of the season to begin March 23.
The Crimson Wave is not at all concerned with their record from a spring trip that included eight neutral site or road matchups with teams ranked in the top 15 nationally. Good competition makes teams better, so with lessons learned and the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference season imminent, confidence is high.
“We went to Florida, and I told organizers at every event that we wanted to play the better teams,” second-year Wave head coach Dave Lopez said. “We wanted to beef up our schedule because that’s going to make us stronger in the long run, and at the end of the day we’re looking at the long run.”
Lopez looks at the season as a three-act play starting with the fall season, the spring trip to either Florida or Texas or both and then the conference season where teams fight for top-eight spots and a bid in the CCAC tourney and one of two automatic NAIA championships berths.
Last season the Crimson Wave came out of the spring travel 8-10 but finished 27-22 with a CCAC tourney appearance and loss to eventual tournament champion Olivet Nazarene. CCAC member St. Xavier was national runner-up.
Thus, this season Calumet College is 5-16 but not scoffing at a mark that includes a 2-6 ledger against top-15 teams.
“Records don’t mean anything when you look at who everyone plays,” Lopez said. “Our strength is our experience. They bond so well on and off the field, and that’s key.”
Three all-conference players are back to lead a team dominated by upperclassmen and only about 25 percent Region players.
While practicing indoors has been good for one (the pitcher) returning all-CCAC honoree, hitting indoors has hindered the other two thus far as they await better weather and conference games.
Ace pitcher Alyssa Sansone from Lockport returns after 15 wins and a 2.41 ERA last season.
Munster grad Sadie Conner led the 2016 team in doubles (11), triples (six), total bases (79) and hits (50) while hitting .299 with 27 runs and 21 RBI.
Priscilla Aponte, who played shortstop and third base and is now the No. 2 pitcher, returns after hitting .318 with 26 RBIs and hurling herself to a 6-1 mark with a 2.61 ERA in 2016.
The only depressing part of the spring trip was the loss of No. 2 pitcher Kali Weyer due to too many concussions suffered in her career.
However, this season the team regained the services of junior shortstop Joanna Drew and senior designated hitter Courtney Spirek, who both missed 2016.
Pride slugging through it: Purdue Northwest’s softball team was wrapping up a long trip to Tucson, Arizona., Wednesday night.
The team went 4-2 in a season-opening trip to Kentucky but ran into a mixed bag of results in the desert, starting the trip 3-4 trip before Wednesday night’s game.
Kyleigh Payne has been mashing with four home runs, 14 runs and 16 RBIs with a .435 batting average entering Wednesday.
Sophomore Taylor Kotzo, a Munster grad, is hitting .400 with three homers and 11 RBIs. Munster native and Illiana Chrisitian grad Sam Oppenhuis has a .391 average, 13 RBIs and two stolen bases.
Caroline Brown and Holly Pagan are the team’s leading pitchers.
Ritchie Richardson was named the program’s new coach back in July, but he is not new to the sport. He’s the second winningest coach in NAIA history with more than 900 career victories, most recently at Olivet Nazarene for 20 seasons ending in 2015.
He took ONU to a 917-316-1 mark with 12 CCAC tournament championships and 10 national finals appearances.
Pumas going out swinging: At St. Joseph’s in Rensselaer, the Division II Pumas have home games scheduled for this weekend, though those could be in jeopardy due to inclement weather.
The Pumas, coming off a 14-37 campaign in 2016, are 5-10 after swings through South Carolina and Florida to start this season.
Freshman Tori Keilman (Bishop Noll) has started 12 games with a .258 average, one home run and six RBIs.
Another local freshman, Portage grad Sydney Coundiff, has started all 15 games behind the plate yet struggled to a .192 average with three runs, three RBIs and a stolen base.
Junior Melanie Smith (LaPorte) has appeared in seven games but batted just once.