CHAMPAIGN — The state of softball in the city of Champaign is improving.
"I don't remember the last time Centennial could say, 'We're No. 1 in the conference,'" said junior catcher Rebekah Bamert, whose two-out, walkoff single in the bottom of the seventh inning drove in the clincher Thursday in the Chargers' 10-9 triumph over visiting Urbana.
"That lifts our spirits."
The win was the team's third in Big 12 action in a three-day span. Centennial has a sub-.500 season record (7-9) and faces an uphill climb to not to have a 10th straight losing season.
"Everybody asks what is the problem with softball in Champaign (where the other public school, Central, is facing a 17th consecutive sub-.500 season)," Charger coach George Hendricks said. "First, we don't have a feeder system.
"Kids are inclined to volleyball, basketball or soccer. Softball is a P.E. event. I spend time talking to girls as freshmen, getting them to try it."
Most who agree to enter the sport have little background in softball. Coaches start with the basics: throwing and catching.
"We've got to train them," Hendricks said. "It would be nice to have middle school softball. They have baseball."
When he gets a young group with promise — like with the current 5-3 junior varsity team — Hendricks tries to avoid promoting them to the varsity, where they might be overwhelmed and lose confidence.
"I want kids to stay interested and get better," he said. "If I have a pitcher and a catcher that can make it a (JV) game, I like to keep them together."
He has such a freshman pitcher in Danielle Staske, who was the winner in a varsity game on Tuesday. "She is good enough to pitch (varsity) right now," Hendricks said.
While the varsity played Urbana Thursday, Staske struck out nine in a five-inning JV shutout against the Tigers.
Bamert not only drove in Alexis Hall with the game-winning run, she also knocked in Courtney Stamm in the bottom of the sixth to snap a 6-6 tie and start a three-run outburst, which Urbana (5-11) matched in the top of the seventh.
Bamert, Stamm, Katrina Lindsey and Katie Brown had three hits for the Chargers.
Katie Janson (4-5) allowed Urbana five hits, but walked eight and was victimized by seven errors. Catcher Bamert had a key defensive play to end the fifth inning, picking Lexi White off third base.
White was the top hitter (2 for 4) for Urbana, which didn't commit an error.
"She (Bamert) has done that quite a bit," Hendricks said, "at least five times. She and our third baseman (Ashley Oare) have a connection."
Bamert isn't hesitant to throw, even in a tie game.
"I've been working on that throw forever," she said. "I knew we needed an out."