Rantoul, Lutes tune up for postseason
RANTOUL — Kalista Lutes demonstrated Monday the two ways to "belt it out" at the ballpark.
The Rantoul High School junior took her traditional pregame perch in the press box and sang the national anthem prior to the Eagles' softball game against Danville at Wabash Park.
In the fourth inning of a scoreless game, Lutes put Rantoul on the board with a solo home run to left field. The Eagles went on to an 11-3 victory against the Vikings.
Lutes is no stranger to holding a microphone or a bat.
"I've sang since my sophomore year before volleyball, basketball and softball home games," she said.
She's gotten rave reviews, even though she's not in the school chorus.
"The first time, I was pretty nervous," Lutes said, "but the reaction of the fans got me comfortable. A lot of people tell me I have the voice of an angel, and they're waiting for me to be on 'The Voice' or 'American Idol.' "
That's not a goal, not yet anyway.
"I like singing for my community," said Lutes, who joins her church choir on Sundays.
Her older sister (2010 Rantoul graduate AnnaLouise) played sports, and it was from watching those games that Kalista saw the opportunity to sing the national anthem.
"I wanted to do it," she said, "but I had to go to the band teacher and audition."
That was no problem, and neither was what she did with a two-ball, two-strike pitch from Danville's Tera Baxter.
"I wanted to drive through it with my hands," Lutes said, "and it went where it went."
The home run was her second of the season and one of three hits she had against the Vikings. Teammates Katey Silver and Sarah Hunt also knocked three hits. Silver drove in three runs, including the ones that broke a 3-3 deadlock in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Rantoul softball coach Travis Flesner encourages all of his squad members to be involved in more than their sport.
"One of the things I stress is 'be better people,' " Flesner said. "Be involved in clubs or other activities; Kalista does a good job with that. Most of our girls participate in other stuff."
Though third baseman Lutes had one other home run this season before Monday, her power display wasn't a surprise to her coach.
"She swings hard, and when she connects, she hits it a long ways," Flesner said.
Lutes said Rantoul (14-16) wasn't discouraged when Danville (7-16) overcame its first deficit to create a tie.
"We know they can hit the ball, but so can we," she said.
Overall, eight Eagles had hits, seven scored runs and six drove in runs. Besides Lutes, other Rantoul players with hits, runs and RBI were Silver, Carson Church and Keegan Jones.
Senior Jamie Hedrick (12-12) pitched a four-hitter, walking one and striking out 10. Her performance followed a Saturday effort in the Corn Belt Conference tournament when she allowed two earned runs in 15 innings.
"She is getting things sharpened up," Flesner said.
Jordan Ogle had two of Danville's four hits. All three Viking runs scored on a two-out, two-strike pitch to Kristi Burghart, who belted a bases-clearing double over the center fielder's head.
Danville's travel squad is down to 14 players, due to injuries and defections, but coach Wendy Royer expects the roster size to rebound quickly. She also coaches the eighth-grade team at North Ridge and had 13 players last fall. The South View Middle School team in Danville had six eighth-graders.
"Potentially, we could have 19 freshmen next year," Royer said. "We're trying to get that feeder program going. It takes a while to get them hooked on the game."
With three seniors on her current varsity, there could be competition galore for spots in 2013. Most important, those who don't make the varsity lineup still will get playing time.
"At least we'll have enough for a JV team," Royer said.
Flesner has that luxury now. Ten of the 22 girls playing softball at Rantoul are freshmen, including two who started against the Vikings: center fielder Church and second baseman Kaylee Denton.
Next week marks the start of the IHSA postseason in softball for small-school teams statewide. Fred Kroner’s look at regional sites where area squads have been assigned:
SITE TOP SEED COMMENT
Broadlands Schlarman Host Heritage has won four straight LOVC titles
Dwight Dwight Iroquois West (No. 4 seed) lone area entry
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley GCMS Only host Falcons have above-.500 record
Heyworth Blue Ridge Knights edged No. 2 seed Deer Creek-Mackinaw 1-0
Tuscola Tuscola Warriors’ tough schedule will make the difference
SITE TOP SEED COMMENT
El Paso Prairie Central Hawks (18-10) opened year with 10 straight wins
Clinton Olympia After 7-7 start, top-seeded Spartans have won 12 of 13
Hoopeston Area Bismarck-Henning A potential 20-win team, PBL, may await in finals
Monticello Maroa-Forsyth Sages gave unbeaten Trojans one of their top games
St. Joseph-Ogden St. Joseph-Ogden There will be no stopping the undefeated Spartans