A 9-9 record in the Crossroads League doesn’t exactly scream “awful.”
But the Indiana Wesleyan University softball team expected more last spring, just one year after winning the league tournament and advancing to the NAIA National Championship.
The team’s offense didn’t miss a beat. IWU scored 119 runs in 18 league games, notching an impressive 6.6 runs per game.
So what was the biggest problem for the Wildcats in 2013?
“Last year we dealt with tons of injuries, many of them season-ending,” head coach Steve Babinski said. “That forced us to play people out of position in the field and affected our defense.”
This year, the Wildcats have mostly recovered from injury.
“We still have a few that are out, but our training staff has done a great job rehabbing them to come back this season,” said infielder Gabby Bogear (so).
The return of injured players should improve the defense significantly, according to Babinski. He added that, if healthy, the defense should be “tremendous.”
Shortstop Emily Sell (sr) agreed with her coach.
“We are a lot more balanced this year, and that should help us a lot,” said Sell.
With four games under their belt so far, the Wildcats have shown flashes of this good defense, allowing just nine runs in a doubleheader sweep over Cumberlands (Ky.).
Gabby Bogear (so) said Babinski has stressed defense in practice throughout the early part of the season.
“Coach has focused a lot more on fundamentals this year,” Bogear said. “We’ve focused on technique, what we need to do and how we need to do it.”
Babinski identified qualifying for both the NAIA and NCCAA National Championships as season goals. The Wildcats reached the NCCAA National Championships last year, but didn’t come close to qualifying for NAIA National Championships. To reach those goals, Babinski has another basic goal for the team, one that doesn’t hinge on injuries.
“We want to get better every day, improving on our fundamentals and staying consistent in our development,” said Babinski.
But there’s always more to team sports than just the skills of the players. Babinski said the team members get along extremely well.
“There’s a lot of iron sharpening iron on this team,” said Babinski. “With the long winter, and when there may be rescheduling of games and frustration from losses, that solid ground is really going to help us in the long run.”
The Wildcats (2-2) will play their next game Saturday against Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz. IWU’s first home game is scheduled for March 14 against Cornerstone (Mich.) in the Sue Bowman Classic.