Chuck Struhar saw a pleasant vision as he watched his Glenelg High School softball team wear out visiting Hammond en route to an important 7-1 victory Wednesday.
"This game was about as close to a repeatof last year's team that I've seen," the Gladiators coach said.
Struhar's 1990 team had gone undefeated against the county with apotent blend of solid pitching, sound defense and a slew of manufactured runs.
This year's Glenelg (9-3 county, 13-5 overall) team hasn't matched the 1990 model by a long shot, but the Gladiators are showing signs of peaking at the perfect time, with the Class 2A regionalplayoffs set to begin Thursday.
Wednesday, the Gladiators -- who as of Friday remained in a
three-way tie for first place with Centennial and Howard with two games left in the regular season -- did all the things Struhar loves to watch.
Junior pitcher Lisa Martin, much improved since struggling last month with her control, scattered nine hits, struck out five and did not walk a batter.
She pitched her way out of two-on, one-out jams in the first and third innings and escaped a two-on, two-out predicament in the fifth, before finishing strong by retiring seven of the last eight batters she faced.
Glenelg played near-spotless defense. The Gladiators' infield handled 11 of 12 chances flawlessly and committed just one error, when third baseman Tanissa Dorsey pulled Jodi Brown slightly off first base with a throw in the third. Casey Reeves eventually came around to score that inning,
but Hammond's offense shot blanks after that.
The Gladiators also caught a big break in the fourth inning, when, with noouts, Amy Hanlin failed to touch third base and was ruled out after Jennifer Garlick's apparent, RBI-double.
But Glenelg mostly took matters into its own hands. Nowhere was that more evident than on offense, where the Gladiators touched Hammond (7-4, 10-5) pitcher Jen Thomas for nine hits -- including two bunt singles and four other infield hits -- and four steals to score its runs the station-to-station way.
"You have to move runners along, and we did that today," said Struhar, whose Gladiators wind up their regular season tomorrow at Hebron and hope to move on in the 2A regionals. "Our goal is always to get one run per inning."
Glenelg nearly met its quota. The Gladiators scored single runs in the second, third, fourth and fifth, then "exploded" for three runs to ice the game in the sixth inning with a typical Glenelg rally. The Gladiators sealed the game with a walk, a Hammond error, three straight bunts, including an RBI-bunt by second baseman Angie Beech (2-for-4), and an infield hit by outfielder ShannonMcCartney (2-for-4).
"We've had games go both ways this year," said Hammond coach Dave Guetler. His Bears lost to Glenelg a second time but still are having their best spring in his eight years there. "Against Hebron, we got out of it when they loaded the bases. Today, wecouldn't do it. Yesterday (against Hebron), this lineup worked real well for us. Today, we didn't get the hits when we needed them."
Hammond, which plays Howard tomorrow and Hebron Tuesday, looked ready to hang tough early. After Glenelg had taken a 1-0 lead in the secondon Lisa Martin's bouncing single that scored catcher Tracy Martin, the Bears evened the score in the top of the third. Reeves reached on Dorsey's throwing error, then scored on an RBI-double by Becky Snyder.
Glenelg regained the lead in its next at-bat in typical Gladiators' fashion. Beech punched a leadoff single through the right side ofa drawn-up infield, stole second and third to record her 33rd and 34th thefts of the season, then scored when Hammond catcher Amy Nestor dropped Thomas' third-strike pitch to Dorsey, who began running to first. On Nestor's throw, Beech slid in with the go-ahead run.
"Thatwas our typical cheap run," Struhar said. "People might joke about it, but we do it better than anyone."
Then, after Hammond botched its chance to tie the game again, the Gladiators poured it on. In the fourth, Tracy Martin led off with a walk, then scored on successive infield hits by shortstop Lory Wineman, Lisa Martin (2-for-2) and designated hitter Joy Younce, who lined an RBI-hit off Thomas' pitching hand.
In the fifth, McCartney lined a one-out single to center thatrolled
under Snyder's glove, allowing McCartney to take second. She then scored on a bloop single by Tracy Martin to make it 4-1. Glenelg then used two hits, a walk, a bunt and a fielder's choice to put the game out of the reach in the sixth.
"We're cutting down our mistakes little by little. No wild throws, no wild pickoffs," said Struhar. He's seen the defense improve dramatically since moving Dorsey to third base two weeks
ago, after trying four players there. Glenelg began the county season by making 11 errors in a 17-12 loss to Hebron April 10. The Gladiators, who finish their regular season at Hebron tomorrow (3:45), have gone 9-2 since.
"I feel very comfortable that we're going to stay close to people," Struhar added. "If we do that, we'll be in good shape. We're not going over to Mount Hebron andcommit 11 errors again. They're going to see a different team this time."