TOLONO — Unity softball got in some batting practice earlier this week before it jumped into postseason play with regional wins against Westville and St. Joseph-Ogden.
Rockets’ coach Aimee Davis put her team through situational at-bats. The usual big moments.
A 3-2 count.
Game on the line.
The result? Home run after home run after home run.
“Every single batter that came up hit a home run,” Unity junior pitcher Taylor Henry said. “We had five batters straight go knock it over the fence.”
“It was crazy,” junior left fielder Gracie Renfrow added. “Coach Davis was obviously super happy. She was like, ‘We need to keep hitting like this!’ Pitch after pitch, it was amazing.”
The Rockets (22-2) did, in fact, keep hitting like that.
They squeaked out a 1-0 regional semifinal victory at home against Westville on Thursday, and then powered their way Friday evening to an 8-4 win at SJ-O on the strength of four home runs — two apiece from Henry and Renfrow — to claim a Class 2A regional title and set up Tuesday’s 4:30 p.m. sectional semifinal game at top-seeded Mt. Carmel.
Unity’s power surge this season hasn’t been isolated to a few players. It’s been an up and down the lineup affair.
Henry anchors the Rockets from the No. 3 spot and hit home runs in consecutive at-bats Friday against SJ-O, but the top of the lineup has also seen freshman third baseman Ruby Tarr and junior first baseman Grace Frye go yard. Renfrow also homered in consecutive at-bats against the Spartans, but there’s been plenty of pop at the bottom of the lineup, too, with sophomore catcher Reece Sarver and junior center fielder Maddie Reed waiting to rough up an opposing pitcher.
“We call ourselves the ‘Bomb Squad’ because our whole lineup has hit a home run,” Henry said. “Anyone’s capable any day. It’s very dangerous for other pitchers and other teams. Anyone of us can take it out.
“There’s a few of us that have always been home-run hitters, but it was really surprising this season because we had a lot more girls that became home-run hitters. We’re all capable of it now.”
That power potential up and down the lineup — and the fact Unity has followed through on it — has the Rockets playing with some real confidence as they pursue their postseason goals. Namely a state title for a program still seeking its first-ever sectional title.
“It’s amazing, honestly,” Renfrow said. “It gives everybody in our lineup confidence that every single person can hit. Up and down, no matter what’s happening, each and every player can hit the ball and they can come through.
“A lot of girls have ups and downs, and when you think you’re absolutely down and everybody can pick you up and everybody’s happy, it’s really amazing. It really helps a lot. It brings everybody’s confidence up.”
Davis has had power hitters at Unity in previous season. The home run consistency is a little different this season. So is the fact she has an entire lineup capable of sending one deep. And the confidence factor matters.
“We practice hitting a lot,” Davis said. “I think that’s come to fruition here late. … We try to scout other teams, and, obviously, top of the lineup is what we’re more concerned about. I think it’s important that we’ve shown that up and down our lineup we can get it done offensively.
“We’ve just been playing really good softball at this point. The girls have been really focusing at practice and buying in to what we want to accomplish.”
Davis isn’t counting on the cavalcade of home runs Unity got to take down SJ-O for a regional championship as postseason play continues. She’ll be content with the Rockets just putting the ball in play. But she’s also not looking to mess with what’s working at the plate as Unity tries to extend its season.
“It’s still going to come down to routine plays,” Davis said. “It’s still going to come down to who can make the most routine plays and who can pitch better. As long as we’re not giving people free bases and we’re really focusing on our defense — and, honestly, keep doing what we’re doing offensively — I think we’ll be tough to beat.”