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A step in the right direction

Spartans softball closes 2019 poised for bright future

Ali Enright turns on a pitch during SWCC's April 4 matchup against Iowa Central. Southwestern won game one of the doubleheader by an 8-6 final on an Amaya Porch walkoff home run.
Ali Enright turns on a pitch during SWCC's April 4 matchup against Iowa Central. Southwestern won game one of the doubleheader by an 8-6 final on an Amaya Porch walkoff home run.

BOONE – Southwestern softball’s season came to a close Saturday afternoon, falling to Iowa Central in the consolation portion of the ICCAC Region XI-A bracket.

The Spartans played three games in the tournament, opening with the No. 4 seeded Tritons Friday afternoon. SWCC was unable to get anything moving at the plate, falling 8-0 in five innings

Shortstop Cayla Maitlen went 2-for-2 in the game. Pitcher Ali Enright dealt all 4 1/3 innings the Spartans had on defense, allowing only two earned runs in the loss.

“For us offensively with the struggles we’ve been having it was tough for us to fight back and get anything going,” said head coach Nick Weinmeister.

The loss put Southwestern in the consolation bracket with a date against No. 8 seed Northeast the next day.

After taking two from the Hawks March 4, the Spartans picked up where they left off and took their third straight game against the Hawks with a 10-2 win.

A hit parade from the Spartans caused a run rule victory as Klarissa McElroy (3-4), Enright (2-3) and Heather Jessen (2-3) had multi-hit games. McElroy and Enright went yard in the game, totalling five RBIs between the two.

Kelsey Tibbs pitched six innings, striking out two.

After falling behind 2-0 in the first inning, Weinmeister and his team knew it was imperative they even the score as soon as possible.

“We had to put up runs in the bottom of the first to get that momentum back, and we were able to do so,” said Weinmeister. “... We were able to put up eight more to finish it off in six innings, which is great to see our bats really swing it well.”

The win gave SWCC a second opportunity to face Iowa Central as the nightcap of the Saturday games.

“We got back to the spot we wanted to, which was getting another shot at Iowa Central,” said Weinmeister.

The offense carried over into the next game as SWCC scored a run in the top of the first, but defensive miscues led to Triton runs getting put up on the board in the first inning.

A questionable call, according to Weinmeister, led to the Tritons extending the differential to 5-1 at the end of the first inning. The Spartans never brought the game closer as Iowa Central pulled away in the later innings, winning 11-3.

In five innings of work Kelsey Tibbs struck out four and walked two, allowing seven earned runs of the 11 scored.

“She really did pitch really well. ... As good as their offense is, I think she did a good job except for that first inning due to defensive mistakes,” said Weinmeister. “That was kind of the tone set, not being able to get over the hump against Iowa Central.”

The Spartans finish the season 15-41 with an ICCAC conference record of 10-18. As a unit SWCC hit .264, slugging 26 homers.

Set for the future

After not fielding a team in 2018, the Spartans made a return this spring.

With the hire of Weinmeister last summer, the former Northland assistant and head coach hit the ground running, putting Southwestern softball back on the field.

He knew stepping into the role as head coach that he had a long season with a tough conference schedule ahead of him, but his reflection of the season the Spartans laid out was a big step forward to him.

“I told the girls at the end of the season if someone had told me in the beginning of the year that this is what our finish would look like, along with the record and the season standpoint I would have taken that deal any time,” said Weinmeister. “I was really pleased with how we came out and finished it.”

A desire to build team chemistry as quickly as possible while trying to field a full roster was a challenge to Weinmeister, but the challenge resolved as the season started once a large freshman class gelled with a sophomore class that was present the year prior.

“Getting that all in mentality and really having to buy into what my vision for the program was and is and also having them making it their own so we could be successful this season. I think they did a really good job of it,” said Weinmeister. “The level of respect they have for each other and how good of friends they became, it made it a lot more fun or them to get to the gym or get to the field every day.”

A new look Spartans team under an experienced head coach was something the conference may not have anticipated once the season progressed. The small-team scrappiness and inability to roll over and die in every game was noted in the opposing dugout.

“The Des Moines Area’s coach (Bob Ligouri) came to our team huddle at the end of the game against Iowa Central and had some really nice things to say about the program, the girls and how we performed this year and said that a lot of teams in the region had been talking about us,” said Weinmeister.

With SWCC on the map in the ICCAC, the team is set to turn heads again with a deep returning class and a talented incoming class that has the women set up for the future.

“I know we have a lot of real eager, competitive freshman coming in this fall and as long as those standards are set right away it won’t have to be a steep learning curve for us next year.

“I think one thing that’ll show for us will be that level of competitiveness and I think our talent will raise to another level,” said Weinmeister.

As for now, the Spartans will have to wait out the summer to get back into the swing of things. Fortunately for the girls, this time it won’t take a year to don the blue and red again.

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