By Chet Piotrowski
The streak continues.
No. 18 Lake Land took both games of a doubleheader from Southwestern Illinois College on Tuesday midst a 45-minute rain delay during the second game to extend its winning streak to 24 games.
Speaking about the streak, of course, is taboo. Softball and baseball players are among the most superstitious athletes.
“We don’t talk about it,” Lake Land coach Nic Nelson said. “We don’t even talk about individual records. Right now, we’re just poised to have a really good year when it comes to records. We never talk about records. We never talk about the national tournament. That’s just stuff that’s taboo here. The kids are doing well.”
Luck had little to do with the Lakers winning Tuesday. Attribute an efficient offense in which 18 of the 21 runners who reached base on walks and hits scored in the two games.
“You have to say their performance was pretty good considering the conditions we played in,” Nelson said. “We didn’t hit well today. We’ve been struggling a little bit, but they did what they had to do to win. But sitting there, rain comes in, then tarp the field, sit there for 45 minutes, untarp the field, roll the tarp up, get back out there on a wet field, So you have to look at it as we survived.”
The Lakers (28-4) scored in each inning of the first game to win 12-3, capped by a grand slam by third baseman Tyanna Graber, who now has a .979 slugging percentage and 1.543 OPS.
“I’m focused on doing well and anything to help the team,” Graber said. “We all have the same goal – to make it to nationals and compete with everybody. People that see me work hard, makes them want to work even harder and that pushes the whole team.”
Nelson said he doesn’t have to keep them focused because they do it themselves.
“If I have to keep them focused, I’ve recruited the wrong player,” he said. “They have their goals, and what they want to do. They want to succeed as much as I get on them for not getting a hit. They’re still challenging themselves to get better. The focus comes from their part.”
Graber said they’ve minimized distractions by staying positive.
“Whenever we’re here, we’re focused,” Graber said. “It’s all about positivity. Our coach can get a little intense sometimes. But we have always each other to bring ourselves up and that’s where we rely on each other.”
The Loogootee, Indiana, native said the team enjoys a familiarity resembling a family, from which their success is derived.
“It’s definitely better because we have a lot of local (players),” she said. “It’s a lot better than them living at home or not living here and having cliques,” she said. “We’re all really close and one big family. Because of that, we don’t fight a lot. We get along very well. The team chemistry is unbelievable here. It’s one of the tightest teams I’ve ever played with. It’s probably why our streak is so unheard of – is because we’re so close and makes us a bit unstoppable.”
Tori Haug allowed two runs on two hits with two strikeouts and a walk in a 6-2 complete game victory to cap the evening.
Southwestern Illinois College began the scoring in the second when McKenzie Rogman drove in a run. But Lake Land then scored six runs in the bottom of the third. Marama Makea singled on a grounder to right field, scoring both Rachel Kaufman and Jordan Sapp, who had singled.
Macy Clark, who singled earlier, scored on a sacrifice fly by Carson Cole making it 3-1. Graber got on base after the ball bounced off SWIC second baseman Heather Albers’s glove and into centerfield. Krysten Darrough tripled, scoring Graber, and later scored on a wild pitch, making it 6-1.
SWIC would add another run in the top of the fourth before the rain halted play.
Mattoon graduate Jordan Sapp has been in and out of the lineup all season.
“At Mattoon, I worked my butt off and started almost every game,” Sapp said. “I get here and your toughest competitor is another girl on the team that plays the same spot. Ive been having to battle my way into hitting so I can get a starting spot. I’ve lost it a couple times. It’s a battle.”
Sapp defined Lake Land’s efficiency Tuesday. In the first game, Sapp earned a walk, scored once and drove in a run. In the second, she had a hit, a walk and scored a run.
“During the beginning of the season, I was hitting really well. Now, I’m in a slump, and coming out of it,” she said. “But that’s probably one of my biggest struggles is hitting and staying consistent to be out on the field and making plays.”
Nelson said the friendly individual battles drive this team.
“Their focus right now is just trying to win a starting spot,” Nelson said. “Their understanding is that their competition isn’t the other team. It’s in the dugout. You gotta beat that girl out. If you don’t, that team doesn’t mean anything to you. If you look at our lineup since we’ve started, it’s changed dramatically. After a couple bad batting performances, it’s changed again.”