Rejuvenated Spartans hoping to regain playoff form
ST. JOSEPH – Never before has there been a softball team at St. Joseph-Ogden with the drive which exists among this year's athletes.
Five Spartans demonstrated the ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field for extra bases in Wednesday's 21-2 five-inning win against visiting Centennial.
That ability with the bat is not really what's at the heart of the matter for coach Randy Wolken's team. His unbeaten, state-ranked squad has an inner drive unmatched in previous seasons.
For that intense motivation, they can thank the 2008 team, which was the first in school history not to capture an on-field regional championship since softball became a spring sport in 1982. Twenty five SJ-O teams achieved that pinnacle and one (in 2000) was denied the chance when the IHSA mandated a regional victory forfeited.
Even with the state's winningest coach perched in the third-base coaching box, the 2008 Spartans did not become the 26th team in 27 years with a regional softball crown.
"Those of us who are returning have more desire," senior outfielder Andi Morgan said. "Those of us who have returned have a lot to prove."
You can bet that Wolken won't let them forget last spring's shortfall during this year's 9-0 getaway.
"We've talked about that at every practice," he said.
Morgan and teammates have done more than listen.
"A lot of us played together in the summer and winter," said senior shortstop Aubrey Welch, who hammered a home run and drove in four runs against the Chargers.
There is no complacency among the varsity players.
"When you win a regional every year, you take it for granted," Wolken said. "The disappointment from last year was a big motivation. The girls have dedicated themselves to coming back and winning a regional."
Said Centennial coach George Hendricks: "They have speed. They have power. They have pitching and they have pretty good defense."
Beyond that, Wolken emphasized, there's quality depth. When starting catcher Brittany Earl was injured during Wednesday's pregame warmups, Wolken readjusted his lineup and every starter wound up scoring at least one run, seven had at least two hits and none struck out.
"The girls, this year, have felt pressure just to start," Wolken said. "We have two or three quality girls at every position.
"After our first practice, I told our coaches we have four or five girls who might not start who would be really good on other teams."
Pitchers Jenna Slifer and Brooke Earl teamed up to shut down Centennial (1-5). Slifer and Audra James each had three hits.
"We have goals in the back of our head," Slifer said, "and we're more focused as a group this year."
Freshmen fill two of the first four positions in the batting order and six squad members have pounded home runs.
"There's good chemistry. We get along well," Morgan said. "There's not an 'I,' not a 'she.' It's 'we.'"
Centennial's Abby Wiegand and Julie Cutright each had two singles against the Spartans.