THE SECOND ACT
Winners of eight out of their last 10 games, the Greene County softball team has its work cut out for them as regionals get underway tomorrow.
The Rams moved up to Class 4A in 2016 after spending the previous two seasons in 3A, a stretch that included back-to-back third place finishes at state. A move up in competition means a potentially tougher road to state.
The Rams (16-13) travel to Perry Thursday to face the Bluejays (21-11) at 7 p.m. in Region 7.
The Bluejays went 7-9 in the Raccoon River Conference this season and finished the year 7-1 in their final eight games. Perry defeated Greene County, 9-0 in their only meeting this season on June 7.
The Rams struggled mightily to figure out the Bluejays ace, Emma Olejniczak, who went six innings without allowing a hit, striking out 10. Greene county didn’t collect a hit in the game, as Sidney Vancil came in to relieve Olejniczak and set the Ram offense down in order in the seventh.
“We are going to have to do a better job of putting balls in play,” Greene County head coach, Tom Kennedy said. “She no-hit us that first time. We are going to have to get some hits, score some runs and put some better pressure on them. If we can do that, we will have a better shot, but it will be tough.”
Olejniczak has compiled a stellar season, boasting a 20-9 record with a 1.21 ERA. She’s struck out 247 batters in 178 and two-thirds innings.
The Bluejays have scored 194 runs in 32 games and feature a .329 team average. Junior Rachel Kinney is their top hitter, scattering 48 hits for a .457 average and 30 RBI to go with four home runs.
“We know they are going to pitch really well,” Kennedy said. “So we have to limit their runs we give up because we aren’t going to score a lot. We are going to have to keep it close, and that will be tough. They play in a good conference. We will have our hands full.”
After hovering below .500 for a good portion of June, the Rams put it together for the stretch run in the final 10 games.
The Rams finished at 8-8 in the Heart of Iowa Conference, good for fifth place. It was a bit of a change from the previous two seasons, as Greene County made deep state tourney runs and won nearly 60 combined games. This year’s squad is young, with only two seniors (Carleigh Paup and Sydney Koch), which may have led to their struggles.
“We started hitting better all through the order,” Kennedy said. “We played better defense too, so it’s a combination of things. We were continuing to get better and it started showing.”
Paup leads the team in batting with a .439 average, her best season to date to go with 23 RBI and three home runs and 43 hits. Koch is the team leader in home runs (5) and RBI (32) and boasts a .357 average. Freshman Megan Carey is second on the team in batting, with a .406 average and 41 hits.
Junior pitcher Hannah Promes is in a groove as of late, and bumped her season record to 13-11 with a 4.02 ERA.
The Rams are on a two-game win streak, with victories over Saydel (9-8 on June 29) and Roland-Story (12-7 on June 30). Paup collected five RBI and a home run over that span while Koch added six runs batted in.
Kennedy has had his girls fine tuning a few things over the last week in preparation of their showdown with Perry.
“We’ve really been working on fielding the ball, getting better defensively,” Kennedy said. “We’ve been working on getting used to her (Olejniczak’s) speed as a pitcher so maybe we will have a better shot at putting balls in play.”
Thursday’s victor will travel to Norwalk Saturday evening for a showdown with the Warriors. Norwalk (20-14) boasts a team ERA of 2.51 and has struck out a total of 207 batters.
“We have really been focused on Perry,” Kennedy said. “But Norwalk is another really good team.”