By Mike Monahan
YUMA, Arizona – The Lake Land softball team was eliminated from the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I National Tournament as they lost to Odessa (no. 5 seed) 3-0 and Wallace State (No. 3 seed) 5-1 Wednesday at PAAC Stadium.
The Lakers finished 56-13, which is just one win from tying the school record of 57-14 set in 2017.
“It was a really cool experience,” said Mattoon graduate Jordan Sapp, a sophomore outfielder. “This is where we wanted to be. We wanted to make it farther than what we did last year (lost in the region 24 finals).
Award winners in Region 24 for the regular season included Jordan Sapp, a Mattoon graduate, who was named the Player of the Year, while the Great Rivers Athletic Conference Player of the Year was Casey-Westfield grad Claire Maulding. Another Casey-Westfield grad, Eva Richardson, was named the GRAC Freshman of the Year, and Tori Haug was named the MVP of region 24.
|Jordan Sapp||Region 24 Player of the Year|
|Claire Maulding||Great Rivers Athletic Conference Player of the Year|
|Eva Richardson||GRAC Freshman of the Year|
“We were led by two really good pitchers (Maulding and Hauge),” said Lake Land coach Nic Nelson. “This group was the COVID-19 class as their first year they were not on campus and it was a bad college experience their first year. Basically we had five to six freshmen, and I am really excited about what we have coming back. We came back just as strong this year, and we are talking about next year a little bit already. I have started working on recruits.”
After the team was eliminated, they visited the Grand Canyon. Some girls went with Nelson to Laguna Beach, California where Nelson got to see his eight-month-old granddaughter for the second time.
“We were excited to get back, not having had a national tournament in 2020 and missing out last year,” said Nelson. “The girls did the best they could. They are a great group of girls to be around. There is always excitement in Lake Land softball whether it is getting ready for the season, the middle of the season or the end.”
Sophomores on the team were Sapp, Maulding, Haug, Liz Titus, a Neoga grad, Scheitler, and Klara Ceikova–Kolaci.
“I can’t complain about the sophomores,” said Nelson. “Sapp had a great year. Seifert was good at first base and the outfielders were great. They are all now looking at colleges and we have a really strong set of interest from New York to Texas to Hawaii, the interest is strong for this group of kids.”
As for the two losses, Nelson said, “Our pitching was really good. I can’t complain about that. We didn’t give up that much. For whatever reason our bats got cold the last couple of games. It’s a big stage and we had a young team. We actually swung the bats well, but didnt’ get timely hits. We had great plays by everyone. Our bats got cold at the wrong time of the year.”
Lake Land won the region tournament and the GRAC, going 38-2 to reach the national tournament for the ninth time in the past 11 seasons (not including 2020, when no tourney was held.)
“We just made up for last year,” said Sapp. “We had a really good year. Lake Land is a really good softball program and the freshmen have a bright future ahead of them.”
Lake Land set a school record by hitting 69 home runs, and the Lakers ranked among the nation’s best in numerous other hitting and pitching categories.
NATIONAL STATS RANKINGS
|Hit by Pitch||52||4|
Nelson felt this team had potential to be a very good team.
“I was pretty excited about this team,” said Nelson. “I knew we had the pitching. We changed our batting style in the fall and it takes a while to get it. We got it going about halfway through the season. We went to more of what they call an angle launch, where you are more back foot driven. Our kids moving on needed to learn that before their next school. So, we had to switch over, and we set the home run record and our slugging percentage was higher (hit .365 and had a slugging percentage of .574). Once we got it we stuck with it and it worked for us. Next year we should have the right from the get-go so we should be better.”
Transportation was an issue, but it all worked out with the help of Lake Land athletics director Bill Jackson as well as some of the players making hotel reservations, while Nelson was at the Region 24 meeting. The team is to fly home Sunday from Phoenix.
Wallace State 5, Lake Land 1
Lake Land took a 1-0 lead, scoring when Richardson doubled and scored on a double by Scheitler, who advanced to third on an error by the left fielder with one out. Unfortunately she was left stranded as Josie Thompson, who improved to 18-0, got a ground out and a pop up, but also walked Serenity Shemwell.
Wallace State, which improved to 56-3, tied the game with a home run by Olivia Bell in the bottom of the first and took the lead for good with a run in the second. The community college, located in Hanceville, Alabama, added two in the fourth and one in the sixth.
Thompson had 10 strikeouts and one walk and allowed three hits.
The Lakers had three hits, all doubles, in the loss and left five on base.
Losing pitcher: Claire Maulding (22-5) 6 innings, 7 hits, 3 runs, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts
LAKE LAND: Deanna Reed 1-for-2; Eva Richardson stolen base
Odessa 3, Lake Land 0
Odessa’s Adyenne Brown, improved to 24-2 and faced the minimum 27 batters. The school, located in Odessa, Texas, improved to 54-5.
“We hit it right at them and couldn’t get anything by them,” said Sapp.
The lone hit for Lake Land was a single in the third to start the inning by Deanna Reed.
The tournament used to be in St. George, Utah.
“The difference between the two is that it was 50 degrees in Utah and 100 in Yuma,” said Nelson, who added the first day the temperature on the field was 106. “It was freaking hot and it was like that most every day. Just the intensity of the heat was not good, but the girls handled it pretty well. We started a hydration rotation before we got to Yuma and they had water or Gatorade and then required water during the tournament.”
Last year the Lakers finished 52-10 so the sophomores went 108-23 (.824)
“My parents (Stephanie and Joe) came down for our game Tuesday” Nelson said, “and drove all the way here and left Thursday morning. We had a good amount of parents cheering us on.”
Losing pitcher: Tori Haug (24-5) 6 innings, 8 hits, 5 runs, 4 earned, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts
LAKE LAND: Richardson 1-for-3, run, double; Kaitlyn Scheitler 1-for-2, double, RBI; Klara Ceikova–Kolaci 1-for-2, double
Sapp Player of the Year in Region 24
Sapp was sixth on the team in batting average at .370 and was second on the team in home runs with 10 and third in runs batted in with 63.
“It was definitely a big accomplishment,” said Sapp. “I wasn’t expecting it all. I tried to redeem myself from last year when I struggled (hit .278). I knew coach had high hopes for me, and I did, too. I wasn’t accomplishing anything last year. The award helps other coaches see me, and I am very glad to earn the award.”