MAHOMET — Lisa Ayers identified a prevalent issue during her Mahomet-Seymour softball team’s three-game losing skid.
Which the Bulldogs carried into Thursday afternoon’s nonconference home game against St. Joseph-Ogden.
Tri-Valley, Normal Community and Pontiac had outscored the Bulldogs 22-9 in consecutive losses following a 3-0 start this spring.
“We’re not going up to the plate with confidence, and it’s very apparent from the get-go,” Ayers said. “We’ve got to go up there with an attacking mindset, and we really focused on that these last couple days of practice.”
The Bulldogs didn’t take long Thursday to make their coach look like a genius.
Karley Yergler homered twice to back her own strong pitching performance, Sydney McKinney smacked a grand slam and M-S rolled past SJ-O 13-3 in five innings.
“It feels great. We needed it so bad,” Yergler said. “This is definitely going to help our confidence so much, winning against a team like St. Joe that has had really good years in the past.”
The Bulldogs (4-3) wasted little time asserting themselves offensively against SJ-O senior starting pitcher Sophia Martlage, with M-S leadoff hitter Aubrie Shore doubling to open the bottom of the first inning.
Martlage nearly worked herself out of an eventual bases-loaded jam, but sophomore Kenadi Granadino delivered a two-out, two-run single. Two batters later, the freshman McKinney rocked her bases-clearing homer over the center field fence and staked the Bulldogs to a 6-0 lead.
“That felt so great, just knowing that I didn’t have to go back and ... try to hold them so much,” Yergler said. “I didn’t have to worry too much because I knew my teammates had my back hitting.”
With a noticeable wind blowing out to right field, everyone present for Thursday’s game knew high scoring might be the order of the day.
SJ-O (6-3) fed into that notion in the top of the second when freshman Addy Martinie hit a two-run home run to center and cut the Bulldogs’ advantage to 6-2.
Outside of a third-inning run off a passed ball, though, the Spartans struggled to touch up Yergler, a junior right-hander.
“It’s not real common that we see pitchers that throw as hard as Yergler does. She’s a good pitcher,” SJ-O coach Larry Sparks said. “It’s hard to simulate when you don’t have people who can throw like that.”
Yergler compiled 11 strikeouts against one walk and scattered four hits. The Spartans regularly were late or off-balance trying to catch up to Yergler’s pitches, and five of Yergler’s strikeouts caught the Spartans looking at the third strike.
“(Thursday) was probably one of her better performances I’ve seen,” Ayers said. “She was hitting her spots. She brought the heat. She looked phenomenal out there.”
The M-S offense kept the heat on Martlage in the form of second-inning RBI singles from Granadino and junior Abigail Akers. Sophomore Maggie Ward took over SJ-O’s pitching duties the rest of the way, recording a perfect bottom of the fourth with two strikeouts.
One Bulldog who seemed to have no issue shifting from Martlage to Ward while in the box?
After Shore led off the M-S third and fifth innings with base hits, Yergler powered a pair of Ward pitches over the fence in center field for her two home runs. An Akers RBI double shortly after Yergler’s second home run allowed the Bulldogs to walk off with the win via the 10-run rule.
“They were excited for this game,” Ayers said of her team. “They’ve been talking about (SJ-O) for a while. It’s a great program, and they’re excited to be able to play their best against them.”
Sparks’ Spartans boast one of the area’s deepest schedules, with 28 games still remaining in the regular season.
With so many opportunities to compete, he’s hopeful a roster containing six sophomores and two freshmen can pick up steam.
“They didn’t get any games last year,” Sparks said. “So it’s going to be a learning curve for a few weeks.”
Just four of Ayers’ 15 varsity players are seniors, as well. And Ayers certainly likes the group’s potential if it puts forth more performances like the one the Bulldogs displayed on Thursday.
“We have high expectations,” Ayers said. “We know what we’re capable of when we show up offensively and defensively on a given night, and we just really hope to try to put that together.”