After dropping two close games to No. 12 Indiana Wesleyan, Taylor softball rebounded with strong showings last week, taking five of six against Crossroads League opponents.
They swept two doubleheaders, one against the University of Saint Francis on March 20, and another against Grace College last Monday, March 22. They finished with a split on the road against Huntington with two 1-run games.
The stretch pushed the Trojans to 17-7 overall and 5-3 in the conference as of March 25, which is good enough for the No. 3 spot in the Crossroads League standings.
“Any win in the conference is important,” junior Maddi Evans said. “Especially these last few and getting on a little run. It was big for us to build our confidence after not starting conference play the way we wanted to. We’re definitely building and learning how to be better every game we play.
Evans, a pitcher and third baseman, started three of the six contests on the mound and picked up the win against Saint Francis and Huntington. Her record as of March 25 stands at 8-2 with a save. She’s pitched 64 innings on the year to the tune of a 2.73 ERA and leads the Crossroads League in strikeouts.
Senior Lauren Kanai started the other three contests last week and picked up wins on the mount against Saint Francis and Grace. Her ERA is right behind Evans’ at 2.75 in 56 innings pitched. The duo is No. 8 and No. 9 in the Crossroads League in ERA. They have combined to start 22 of TU’s 24 games.
Junior Cassy Lewis is third on the team in innings pitched and leads the team with five saves out of the bullpen. Her ERA of 3.50 is good for the No. 15 spot in the Crossroads League and she leads the conference in saves.
“(The pitchers) have done a great job with their command,” Head Coach Erin Bellinger said. “They’re getting used to the pitch calling and they’re really taking control of games. They’ve done a good job of keeping pitch counts low.”
With so many games in a short timespan, Bellinger highlighted how important it is that they keep their best arms rested and ready. Pitching heavy innings can make that difficult, so keeping pitch counts low is crucial.
While Taylor has been dominant on the mound and in fielding for much of the season, their hitting came around in a big way in the 14-7 and 9-1 sweep of Grace.
In the 14-7 comeback win, which saw the Trojans score eight runs in the fifth frame, five players drove in runs. Evans had five RBI and hit a home run in the fifth inning. Senior Kara Tucker also had a home run in the sixth to add insurance.
The second contest was much of the same for the offense, as Taylor scored nine. Junior Ashton Whitman hit her second home run of the season in the second inning. Whitman is No. 4 on the team in RBIs, behind Evans, Kanai and senior Kristin Mihalic.
“We’re trying to put all the pieces together right now,” Whitman said. “Having confidence from the Grace games can carry us into our next games. We had a decent day hitting against Huntington. The more we hit, the more confidence we’ll have and the more runs we’ll score.”
Taylor’s batting numbers have been good on the season, and they’re No. 15 in the NAIA in total hits, but hitting with runners on base and in scoring position is something they’ve identified that needs to be better.
“Situational hitting is big for us,” Evans said. “We know it takes a lot of work to become clutch in those situations. It’s easy to go into those situations and start thinking about it too much, but we need to understand it’s just another at-bat and we can get back to the basics.”
Standing at No. 3 in the conference standings and receiving votes in the NAIA Top 25 poll, as well as the cancelation of last year’s season, has left the Trojans hungry for more. They’re aiming to capture their first conference title since 2014 and make it back to the national tournament.
“They’re a tough team,” Bellinger said. “They will go out and compete and they will fight to that last inning. In the past, they’ve felt like they have been overlooked and I think they want to show teams what they’re made of.”