By Kyle Daubs
Mattoon enjoys not having a proverbial target on its back.
No that many area coaches had predicted the Green Wave would be contender this season for the Apollo Conference title.
And certainly few expected greatness from the team after an 0-3 start in which the Green Wave were outscored 26-5.
But Mattoon has turned it all around.
With a win over Mahomet-Seymour on Tuesday, Mattoon has now inserted itself into the Apollo mix, which has coach Hannah Dow beyond excited.
With victories over defending conference champion Mount Zion, Taylorville, and Mahomet, the Green Wave are 3-0 in the Apollo Conference, tied for first with Charleston.
Few coaches or observers had expected this.
But here we are.
“Coming into the Apollo conference games, we were not picked to be in the top three as a conference contender,” said Dow. “As a team, we talked about what that meant and how we wanted to handle it. It honestly gave us some momentum. We didn’t have the so-called pressure or target on our back that we were supposed to win those games. It kinda added a spark to our team as we played some great games against some tough teams.”
Mattoon will take on Effingham, who is 10-3 overall and 2-1 in the conference, on Saturday. Their lone loss is to the conference favorite Charleston, but Dow believes that the hard work from the team has players believing they can go all the way.
“I knew we were very capable of being at the top of the conference and it took the ‘Buy I’ from the team to believe they could do it as well,” said Dow. “These girls have been so fun to coach this year. I am proud of the progress we have made so far and we continue to work hard every single day.”
The team started the year with three straight losses, but the team has since gone 6-1. Senior starter Raven Morrison has gone 4-0 since joining the team from volleyball, including a 1-hitter last Saturday. The right-hander has a 0.70 earned run average through 30 innings.
Perhaps her best stat: just three walks vs. 32 strikeouts.
“Raven has really been fun to watch out on the mound this year,” said Dow. “She has worked hard and been a leader in the circle by throwing strikes, providing a lot of energy, and shutting down the opponents. She gives momentum to our offense as we have had some quick 1-2-3 innings on defense. Our bats sure have come alive right time. It’s contagious with our team. All it takes is just one person to start us and the rest follow.”
Effingham boasts several solid hitters, including Taylor Armstrong who is a home-run hitting threat.
Effingham was picked to contend for the conference title so the proverbial target is on their back, not on Mattoon’s.
And that is exactly how Dow likes it.
“We know going into this weekend that Effingham is going to be a tough opponent,” said Dow. “They have beat some good teams and had two close games with Charleston. We can’t focus on who we are playing and what they are going to do. We can only control what we bring to the table that day. If we come out with the energy like we have been, it will be a great game to watch. A win over Effingham would be a great confidence boost going into the Strike Out Cancer game against Charleston next weekend. We just have to focus one game at a time and continue to work hard and trust each other out on the field.”
Who: Mattoon (6-4, 3-0) @ Effingham (10-3, 2-1)
When: 10 a.m.
Where: Effingham High School
Note: minimum 15 at bats