By Mike Monahan

“Our pitching has been pretty dominant,” said Lake Land coach Nic Nelson. “We start six to seven freshmen so we are a pretty young team. The pitching will hopefully hold up and then we get hits. It is up to us to perform at the plate. Every game is tough.”

The Lake Land softball team, 49-10 and ranked 21st in the nation in Division I National Junior College Athletic Association, starts its postseason Saturday with a Region 24 tournament doubleheader against Frontier College of Fairfield, a team that is 22-28. It is the best of three games with the “if necessary game” scheduled for noon Sunday. The winner of the series advances to Belleville to Southwestern Illinois College in the Region 24 Final Four.

The Lady Lakers enter on a 10-game winning streak and have outscored their opponents by the average score of 10-2. 

Lake Land won the Great Rivers Athletic Conference by nine games over second place Kaskaskia College with a 38-2 mark. 

The Lady Lakers have won 26 straight wins at home, including all 22 this season. With two wins Saturday they will match the 2015 team that went undefeated at home. In the last nine seasons Lake Land is 199-20 (.909).

Nelson underwent rotator cuff surgery for a torn rotator cuff and missed six weeks. However, that was no problem for Lake Land as former coach Denny Throneburg took over as the head coach.

“It is nice to have a backup like that in coach Throneburg,” said Nelson. “We are very similar in what we do. Sometimes, I might call a bunt and he wouldn’t. It is nothing big. We are very fortunate to have him. John Hendrix, a former Cumberland coach, is an assistant coach.”

Nelson is a dugout coach as he can’t make any sudden movement. I could have returned this week, but I don’t want to upset the apple cart. Once we were going with Throneburg, we were going to keep it the same. I wanted to try and keep the consistency and not go back and forth.”

Nelson works with Hendrix on hitting. 

“I help where I can, but it is frustrating not being able to do what I have done (no surgeries before this),” said Nelson. “I  have got to be comfortable where I am at. I had never missed a day.”

The top five batters for Lake Land, a team that hits .373 are Serenity Shemwell (.443), Eva Richardson (.442), Kaitlyn Scheitler (.439), Ashly Hicks (.399) and Jordan Sapp (.390). Richardson leads in home runs with 12, while Kiara Ceikova-Kolaci has nine. Richardson is tops in runs batted in with 59, while Scheitler had 57 and Sapp has 54. Bella Atkinson and Deana Reed lead in stolen bases, while Richardson has 10. 

“It has been the next-man-up type of season as our original shortstop broke her ankle four to five weeks ago. We brought another in and she hurt her knee, and then I go down. It has been the next-man-up all year long.”

The two teams have played four times this season. Lake Land swept Frontier at home on April 1, 4-3 and 12-5. On April 19 at Fairfield, the Lady Lakers won 7-5, but then lost 6-5 to the Bobcats.

”They are extremely  tough,” said Nelson.  “They have a really good shortstop (Tenley Gilbert) and leadoff batter (Ryann Berger). It will be a good matchup for us and be a good doubleheader.”

Lake Land set a single season record of 66 home runs and they are seventh in the nation in runs (508), 11th in hits (588), eighth in doubles (116), 10th in extra base hits (201), ninth in hit by a pitch (44) first in sacrifice flies with 31 fifth in shutouts with 15 and are in fifth in earned run average at 1.98. The Lady Lakers have hit into only one double play.

“We changed our hitting style,” said Nelson of a hitting style that started two years ago at other places. “I decided to switch to it and we have seen the benefits. We started seeing the benefits about halfway through the season as we started to click together a little bit.”

With one win Saturday, Lake Land will have 50 wins for the ninth season in the last 10 (not including the COVID-19 shortened season in 2020. 

Tori Haug had a 1.04 earned run average for Lake Land and has pitched 111 ⅔ innings and is 18-4. Claire Maulding is 21-3 with a 1.62 earned run average. She has 207 strikeouts and only 37 walks in 142 ⅔ innings. 

Sapp and Frontier’s Brooklyn Edwards are 2019 Mattoon grads. 

Frontier has a .363 batting average with 45 home runs and are 10-16 on the road. They have won four of its last six games. The Bobcats are 23rd in hits and doubles with 529 and 105 respectively. 

Morgan Carr leads the team in batting at .419, while Beger is at .415 and Edwards at .407 and Hadley Jarboe at .394. Jaillyn Carr leads in home runs (14) and RBI’s (55). The team has 103 stolen bases, including 29 by Gilbert. 

Morgan Carr has a 5.10 earned run average and is 6-9 with two saves, while Jailyn Carr has a 6.25 earned run average and is 7-3 and with two saves. They have a 6.39 earned run average and the defense has commited 110 errors. 

The Lake Land battery is all Casey-Westfield when Richardson is the catcher and Maulding is on the mound.

“Eva Richardson has been phenomenal behind the plate,” said Nelson “It (the all Casey battery) has been working out really well. 

“Jordan Sapp had a good year last year,” Nelson said. “But this year she is having a great year at center field and has played where needed to fill in.”

Nelson said, “if Tori Haug and Claire Maulding would happen to get hurt we have two outstanding freshmen and we like our freshmen pitchers (Caili McGraw and Jayden Hanson). “

A player that has worked her way into the starting role is Ava Stephens, a Charlston grad. “When the shortstop got hurt she moved up and all she did was go 7-for-8 with two doubles and she has been in it ever since and has done a great job.”