Going through some initial early season bumps in the road in her first full season as Mercer County's head softball coach, Cassidy Staker liked what she saw over the final weeks of the 2012 campaign.|
With the Golden Eagles starting to hit their stride down the stretch, they just missed the .500 mark both overall (14-16) and in Lincoln Trail Conference play (8-10). However, the momentum they built late last spring took root and has produced a very promising beginning to the 2013 season.
Winners in five of its first seven games, Mercer County has played the bulk of its games in the LTC and sits tied for second place with a 5-1 mark, putting both the Eagles and Princeville one game behind unbeaten leader and defending champion Biggsville West Central.
"We kind of started building toward the end of last year,'' said Staker, a former Aledo prep standout. "We had to have that leadership that wasn't quite present at the start (of '12). I've got a good group of seniors to fill that role this year, and these girls have played together for quite awhile and know each other.''
Among Staker's five returning seniors is last year's leading hitter, outfielder Morgan Weeks, who turned in a .451 average last spring with 10 doubles, 14 RBIs and 26 runs. The second-leading Golden Eagle batter from '12 is a junior, catcher Jessica Brooks (.446, 23 doubles, 19 RBIs, 34 runs).
Also, sophomore pitcher Bailey Swanson has made great strides after winning 11 games in her rookie campaign. She picked up a pair of wins in the Golden Eagles' doubleheader sweep of ROWVA last Saturday that kept them on the West Central Heat's heels.
"Bailey getting a year under her belt helps,'' said Staker. "She came in and held her own as a freshman and did a great job, and she's only gotten better and stronger since last year.''
Before the season started, Mercer County had a sense it could contend in the LTC, something Staker and her players discussed at length.
"Something we talked about a lot was being mentally ready and understanding every conference game is important for us,'' she said. "You never know -- one game might separate us from the top spot.''
Also up there: While Mercer County (and Princeville) are trying to keep the heat on West Central, two other teams are nipping at the Eagles' and Lady Princes' heels with 4-2 LTC marks -- Stark County and United, the latter coming off a Saturday split with Annawan-Wethersfield that helped keep the Titans in the early picture at 3-3.
Mercer County has already swept Stark County and faces the Red Storm twice next week (Apr. 9 and 11), then has a key Apr. 20 twinbill at Princeville before facing West Central on Apr. 23 and 25.
Fast start for Rams, Panthers: Riverdale has gotten out of the blocks in the Three Rivers Conference, taking its first four games to grab the early edge in the standings over Morrison and Erie-Prophetstown. Senior ace Sadie Mosher struck out 54 batters in those four wins, which included three shutouts.
Tabbed as a team to watch in the preseason, Erie-Prophetstown has not disappointed with six wins in its first eight games, but one of those losses was Monday's 5-0 decision to Riverdale. The Panthers' other loss came to Class 4A Lisle Benet Academy as they finished third at their own tournament last Saturday behind the pitching and hitting of sophomore Savannah Mettler.
Tigers hope to overtake Rockets: Sitting in a virtual dead heat in the early West Central North returns with Carthage Illini West and Rockridge, the Sherrard Tigers (3-1, 2-0) hope to begin gaining some momentum when they play the Rockets (5-3, 3-1) today and Thursday in two of the league's biggest games.
Sherrard doesn't play Illini West until May 7 in its final doubleheader as a WCC North member. Rockridge has already faced the Chargers, splitting that twinbill.
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