Pitchers tend to breathe a sigh of relief when they get through the tough part of the opposition’s batting order.
The problem with the Lawrence University softball team, if you’re the opposition, is the easy part of the lineup never seems to come to the plate. The Vikings take a balanced and prolific offense into this weekend’s Midwest Conference Tournament at Lake Forest College.
Making its second consecutive MWC Tournament appearance, Lawrence (18-11) opens tournament play against South Division champion Lake Forest (23-8) at noon on Friday. North Division winner St. Norbert College (16-15) faces Monmouth College (20-16) in the other opening game Friday. The winner of the double-elimination tournament receives an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
“We’re so balanced,” Lawrence coach Kim Tatro said. “I think in certain years we’ve had some really explosive hitters. This year we can get that explosiveness from a variety of different sources. It makes us more successful, and for other teams, a bigger challenge to deal with.”
Lawrence has the league’s highest batting average at .333, and the Vikings have averaged 6.6 runs per game, which is second to only Lake Forest (7.8) in the conference.
“When we’re (balanced) as a team, that’s what makes us good,” Tatro said. “It’s not about just one or two people being successful.”
Eight of Lawrence’s nine regular starters are hitting higher than .300, and the other one is just below the .300 mark. The offense is paced by junior shortstop Amanda Jaskolski, who is hitting .422 with eight doubles, one triple, six homers and a 30 runs batted in.
While Jaskolski has been terrific in the clean-up spot, production from the bottom of the order also has been excellent. Second baseman Cory Paquette has played more games (19) than anyone else while batting seventh and has hit .321 in that spot. Freshman catcher Sam Belletini has played a team-high 10 games while batting eighth and is hitting .400 in that spot. Outfielder Tierney Duffy has hit ninth more than anyone else and is at .296 at the bottom of the order.
The 7-8-9 hitters have batted a combined .315 while scoring 51 runs and driving in 51 in 29 games. The bottom of the order has been so good getting on base that lead-off hitter Savanna Marsicek has driven in 13 runs while batting .333.
“I think we’re getting contributions from a lot of different places,” Tatro said. “I think that’s important to your team. Playing down the stretch without some key contributors was important for us. It’s nice to not have to rely on just a couple of people to get things done for us, whether that’s hitting, pitching or defense.”
While keeping the offense cranked up this weekend will be important, Tatro knows her top two pitchers also will have to be on their games. Juniors Kara Vance and Liz Barthels have both come up big in recent games, with both of them tossing shutouts in must-win conference games.
“We have some very good offensive teams in our conference,” Tatro said. “Any time you can shut out anyone in our conference, it’s pretty impressive. We’re going to need similar-type performances going into the tournament. All four teams going into the tournament can hit.
“It’s going to be a huge key for us. Keep the hitters off-balance and keep the ball in the yard.”
Vance is 11-4 with a 4.22 earned run average, and Barthels is 6-6 with a 3.72 ERA. The Vikings also can turn to sophomore Jessica Demski, who has been effective with a 1-1 record and 3.91 ERA in 14.1 innings.
If Lawrence wants to return to its first league title since 1999, Tatro said her team has three key areas on which to focus.
“No. 1, we have to be solid defensively. We can’t give extra outs in innings. No. 2, we have to be productive one through nine in the lineup. We can’t rely on one or two people to hit for us,” Tatro said.
“Finally, we have to pitch smart. That’s not by overpowering people, it’s by keeping them off-balance, changing speeds and letting the defense do the work.”