Long layoff serves Cougars well
Thirteen days off appears to have been just what the doctor ordered.
The Shawnee Mission Northwest softball team emerged from a long break rejuvenated, re-energized and focused last Monday. The Cougars began the week with a two-game sweep of SM South and finished it with another two-game sweep, this time against Olathe North. The wins moved SMNW to 4-0 on the week and 6-2 on the season.
The Cougars were led by the powerful bats of senior outfielder Katie Smith and sophomore shortstop Summer Kelley and by the steady mound presence of senior pitcher Kim Jones.
However, the real hero may have been the weather. While the cold and wet conditions of the past weeks have forced coaches and administrators to scramble for re-scheduling dates, Northwest coach Mark Balderston and his team used their time off wisely, hitting softball after softball in batting practice and resting the injured Jones.
Jones' foot was the recipient of a sharp liner against SM West two weeks ago during a 2-0 loss to the Vikings. The injury forced Jones out of the second game of that day.
Fortunes may have seemed dim for Northwest at that point. However, Mother Nature intervened with a series of cancellations, allowing Jones' foot to heal and the Cougar batters to rediscover their strokes.
"The main benefit of the time off was allowing Kim's foot to heal," Balderston said. "At this time of year you want to play every game you can, but it was important for her to get healthy again. As far as hitting, I think it was just the repetition of practice that allowed us to become more confident with our swings."
When the weather cleared, it didn't take long for the Cougars to regain their old form. SMNW blanked South 7-0 in their first game back. Smith overwhelmed Raiders pitching with a pair of home runs and five RBIs.
Kelley, Kasey Martin, Katie O'Nele and Macee Wilson each added two hits in support of Jones, who allowed only one hit in 7 innings while striking out 14.
In the nightcap the Cougars once again were too much for the Raiders, dominating South 13-1. Martin led the way offensively with two hits, including a homer, and four RBIs, while Kelley followed with two hits, including another homer, and three batted in. Meghan Miller recorded two hits and four RBIs, while Grace Findlay, Smith, and Wilson had two hits apiece.
Jones pitched three strong innings in the second game, striking out five, before giving way to sophomore reliever Kirsan Caswell, who struck out three in her first varsity appearance.
On Tuesday, the Cougars traveled to the Olathe District Activity Center for a doubleheader with Olathe North. The Cougars again came out on fire, lighting up the Eagles for a 12-0 mercy-rule shortened game.
Smith went 2-for-3 with three RBIs while Kelley was 2-for-4 with three RBIs. The pair hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning.
Findlay and Wilson each had two-hit days in support of Jones, who allowed two hits while striking out 13.
The second game of the twin bill was more difficult as the Cougars had to battle the Eagles into extra innings before emerging victorious, 7-6, in eight innings.
Freshman Loryn Goebel scored the game-winning run on a Kelley blast to left center field in the top of the eighth and Jones struck out the Eagles' final two batters of the game to preserve the victory.
Martin led the way offensively for the Cougars, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs while Goebel added two hits.