Category Archives: Softball

Softball brings new vibe

Softball season definitely brings a new vibe to campus and quickens the arrival of Spring’s energy and Summer’s overplaying of country music. The team takes the campus aux cord before each game to loosen up and get in the zone at Ruth Leedy Stadium, sending Sam Hunt’s, “Body Like a Back Road,” reverberating off the Meyer Science Center.

Last Saturday, the Wheaton Softball team began CCIW play with a double header against the Millikin University Big Blue and blasted the powerful and ironic rock anthem, “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC.

Junior Kendall Kehres of Doylestown, Ohio took the mound for Saturday’s first game and pitched kept Millikin to one run through six, but out of nowhere the Big Blue blasted through for a five-run, last inning rally to solidify a 0-6 loss for the Thunder. The second game saw more of the same as Wheaton gained a quick four run lead and lost to five unanswered runs for a crushing 4-5 finish.

Two games against Hope College were postponed indefinitely due to weather on April fourth, and the Thunder head out to North Park University on Friday for another double header.

Tough Stretch

Coming off a rough stretch of games in which the Thunder struggled to get wins against Aurora and Wartburg, Wheaton’s softball team was back on the field on last Friday against Saint Mary’s College (Ind.) for a doubleheader here at Wheaton’s Ruth Leedy Field.

Both teams hung tight throughout the first five innings, capped off by a triple to right field by sophomore Kelly Thornton that brought home sophomore Sophie Kent, tying the game at 2-2. The game then went to extra innings. Unfortunately, the Thunder allowed a single in the eighth that scored two runs, effectively winning Saint Mary’s the game.

In the second game, the Thunder came out with their bats ablaze, en route to an offensive explosion of eight scored runs in the first three innings. Saint Mary’s could only muster six runs as the women ran away with the game and split the series.

Junior Megan Neuhaus and Thornton led the Thunder with two hits apiece, as well as one run each. Thornton also collected three RBIs in the game. Junior Kendall Kehres pitched all six innings for the Thunder and allowed nine hits.

A few days later, on Monday, the team traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich. to face Calvin College in a doubleheader. The Thunder seemed to have left their bats in Wheaton as the team could only muster one run and five hits in both games, combined. Calvin, meanwhile, collected 20 hits in total. Thornton had the team’s lone RBI on the day when she hit a fly ball to left and allowed sophomore Hannah Clark to score. The Thunder lost by scores of 1-6 and 0-8.

To finish out the busy week of play, the Thunder played Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill last night. The team lost both games of the doubleheader by scores of 1-4 and 4-5. The Thunder have now lost six of seven games and are struggling to manufacture runs, only topping four runs in an inning twice during that streak.

“We are a young team that has a lot of talent we just need to find our groove by continuing to work hard and focus on getting the details of our jobs done,” junior Julia Arthur said after the game. “Despite our record we are feeling confident about going into the start of conference play on Saturday with a clean slate!”

Wheaton hopes to stop their four-game skid on Saturday as they take on Millikin University at home for their first CCIW game of the year.

Softball Preview

The Wheaton women’s softball team has had a challenging start to their season. Last year’s team was anchored by four seniors who have moved on, leaving the current roster with only one current senior, Abby Butler, and only three juniors.

Last year’s team set many records and had quite an impressive post-season as one of the best Wheaton softball team of all time, statistically speaking. The expectation for this year’s team is to follow in that pattern. Thus far, though, the expectations for the team have been somewhat disappointed.

The schedule for this year is primarily comprised of away games which continues to test the endurance of the team on and off the field. They have played a significant 14 games in the past three weeks, but have only won three. The season started with a trip to Florida to face 10 schools in the annual Spring Games held at the National Training Center. The Thunder pulled out a come-from-behind 3-2 win over University of Northwestern and a decisive 6-1 win over John Carrol University, but unfortunately lost the other eight games.

On the positive side, the majority of the losses this season have been by fewer than three runs. Wheaton has been competitive in most of the games the team has played, they just have been unable to “seal the deal” at the end.

There are 26 more games on the Thunder schedule this season, all of which are double headers. These provide perfect opportunities for improvement as the team looks ahead to the CCIW tournament. Thunder fans are hopeful the girls will be able to rally together by the beginning of May after the team’s rough start in order to defend the school’s first ever CCIW Championship, earned during the 2016 season.

The ultimate juggling act

Athletics, higher academics and a career — most people take on these challenges one at a time. If a student is especially committed, he or she might be able to take on two of these tasks at once. But three? Now that’s the ultimate juggling act.

Graduate student-athlete Ellen Radandt has put herself in the very difficult position of balancing all three of these commitments. All spring, she has been and will continue to race from school to her job to the softball diamond. Calling it “busy” would only scratch the surface of her lifestyle.

Four years ago, as a freshman, Radandt felt pain shoot through her leg as she tore her ACL. Because the ACL is located deep within the knee joint, it is one of the worst injuries for a catcher like Radandt who is constantly in a crouched position.

Even so, Radandt attempted to play through the injury during her sophomore year after having it surgically repaired. The problem was that she only waited half the recommended amount of time before attempting to play again. This only made the injury worse.

After sitting out all of junior year in order to let the ACL fully heal, Radandt returned to the field last season and quickly regained her form and was honored as a member of the All-CCIW First Team. She batted .323 with a .374 on-base percentage and led the team with eight home runs.

As the season began drawing to a close, Radandt and her coaches joked about the fact that she should come back and stay on the team for one more year. The longer the jokes persisted, the more Radandt thought about actually staying one more year.

When Radandt graduated last May from Wheaton College with an undergraduate degree in business and economics, she had not come to a decision about her future. Later, she would eventually decide to continue her education by obtaining a master’s degree in evangelism and leadership. It just so happened that this is one of the programs that Wheaton’s master’s program offers.

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Radandt at bat at a game earlier this season. Photo credit Andrew Graber.

Her coaches were overjoyed when Radandt announced that she would be returning to the school for her fourth season. She also took a job at a nearby accounting firm called Cedar Stone Partners.

“It’s given me the flexibility to start my career and get a job in the field that I want to be in,” Radandt explained. “Accounting has always been something I was interested in … It’s been nice to go to school and pursue a higher education while starting work in the world.”

Radandt understands that staying at Wheaton beyond four years may not be an enjoyable option for everyone. For her, it has been a quintessential dream scenario as she has been able to work, study and play, all at once.

But was there any hesitation or regret in staying at a school from which her classmates had already graduated and moved on?

Radandt doesn’t hesitate for a second: The answer is no. The chance to play one final year of softball was a no-brainer for her.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said. “Softball makes my life more exciting and fulfilling to be a part of a team.”

In fact, the hardest challenge she’s had to face was not any of the pitchers she stared down on the softball field. Rather, her “speed bumps,” so to speak, have occurred within the classroom.

“The hardest part has been the intensive class schedule and preparing for those because it takes so much time, even though you’re only in school for three days a week,” she said. “You have to read so much beforehand and then write about it and reflect on it before you even get to class, which can make it a lot more challenging.”

It’s all worth it for Radandt, as she continues to build her portfolio. Even though she is not sure what she might want to do after graduate school, being able to bring an evangelism and leadership graduate degree into the business world in a year or so will be “different than (what’s) expected” from most business majors. Coupled with her work experience, this could open up a world of potential opportunities.

Despite the craziness of her graduate school schedule, Radandt still finds ways to prioritize softball in her life and take advantage of every last second she has on the softball diamond.

“Softball has been my lifelong passion and I’ve always loved it,” she explained. “It was such a great opportunity to play with the now-senior class and to get to be a part of building a program to a higher standard.”

The softball program is not the only thing that has risen to a higher standard this year. With her play, work ethic and studying determination, Radandt is raising the bar and showing what it truly means to live a lifestyle of simultaneous busyness and bliss.

Softball’s first conference losses

After starting with their hottest start in recent memory and entering the national rankings for the first time this season, the #24 Thunder hit a few speed bumps before returning to regular, smashing form.

Going 2-2 in conference this week, the Thunder remain in second place in the division, with key rival and defending conference champion Illinois Wesleyan paying a visit to Ruth Leedy “Firing Range” on Saturday.

The Thunder started the week with Monday’s make up games against Elmhurst. After being rained out twice, the teams finally got the games in with the Thunder taking one and losing one. In the first game, senior Katie Thornton (0.76 ERA), who won her second CCIW pitcher of the week honors, continued to lock things down on the mound, but it took the Thunder until the seventh inning to get two runs on the board to take the lead.

Elmhurst quickly matched, and the Thunder played two more nail-biting innings before the bats finally woke up, pulling down 5 more in the ninth to win 7-2. The Thunder failed to secure the second contest, as the characteristically hot bats caught a cold. Though defeated by Elmhurst, sophomore pitcher Kendall Kehres pitched six innings of one run ball before trouble in the seventh.

In the second contest of the week, the Thunder returned home for another conference matchup, this time against Carthage’s strong pitching. The ladies were still a little chilly from Elmhurst, and failed to find the ball in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss. Their first consecutive losses of the year, the Thunder kept their head in the game and quickly bounced back, delivering a revenge-killing of a second game in a 15-3 victory behind Kehres.

Sophomore Julia Arthur, freshman Hannah Clark and junior Katie Yergler led with the bats, going 3-4 each, including Clark’s inside-the-park home run. Kehres continued to impress, throwing one of the best outings of her career. Though she encountered a bit of trouble late Monday, Kehres has now delivered back-to-back quality starts, filling the most obvious hole in the Thunder system.

Despite the two conferences losses, the #24 Thunder finished strong. They currently sit in second place in the conference at 6-2, with Saturday’s “championship preview” just ahead. As 4-2 Wesleyan comes in Saturday, Thornton’s continued dominance and Kehres’ hot streak put the Thunder right where they need to be. Hit like they’re capable of, and these ladies will be knocking on the door of Wheaton’s first CCIW softball championship.

And it’s out of here… seven times

“There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening,” said 2011’s “Moneyball” character Peter Brand, based on the real-life baseball executive Paul DePodesta. “To buy wins, you need to buy runs.”

The ‘sabermetrics’ approach DePodesta and the 2002 Oakland Athletics used to revolutionize Major League Baseball seems to have found a resurgence in the run-machine that is #25 NCFA-ranked Thunder Softball. In the last seven days, the ladies have outscored opponents 70-13 in six games, improving their season record to 18-4 overall and 4-0 in conference.

The streak started with a pair of victories, 9-1 and 2-1, against Benedictine last Thursday before beginning conference play on Saturday. Katie Thornton took the wins and improved her ERA to a CCIW-leading 0.90 by the end of the week.

When the Thunder visited Augustana in April of last year, history stood in their path. It had been 12 years since the Thunder last swept their archrivals. Now, after Saturday’s 11-1 and 17-1 embarrassments, the Thunder have swept Auggie in back-to-back years, starting conference play with a smash. Thornton picked up wins in both, and Christina Sandstedt excited with her second back-to-back home run performance of the week. Sandstedt now owns the 21st and 22nd back-to-back homerun plate appearances in Division III history. After Tuesday’s games, she had turned in five home runs for 16 RBIs in the last eight games and earned her second career CCIW Hitter of the Week honors.

With Augustana limping back to Rock Island, North Park took their turn in the drop zone as the Thunder rained down the runs in 8-0 and 23-9 mercy rulings. In the second outing, the Thunder covered their unusual number of errors with seven home runs, including two by senior Lyndsey Pritchard. She added to the Thunder’s CCIW-leading 20 home runs, which include contributions from Sandstedt, Ellen Radandt, Kelly Thornton, Katie Yergler, Alyssa Leonard and Julia Arthur.

With 78 runs scored and a team ERA of 1.98, the Thunder entered the Division III national rankings at #25. A well deserved accolade for this home run-happy squad, the Thunder have a one-track mind, according to Sandstedt. “I’m excited in the sense that it’s a great step forward for our program to be recognized. But right now, we’re just staying business as usual. We have more important things to think about, like our next opponent.”

The Thunder look to continue the hit parade with a conference matchup at Elmhurst on Thursday.

No sleep till home games

Sports history will long remember the third week of March for Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Ray’s playing in what President Obama called an “extraordinary” game in Havana, Cuba, against the country’s national team.

Back in the Midwest, the ladies of the Thunder softball team were playing in a feel-good tour that they will not soon forget either. Although the stakes were a bit lower for the women, they experienced similar success, nonetheless.

“It feels great to come off spring break and be able to bring that momentum back here right away,” Leonard said. “It made for a much smoother transition.”

In 14 games this season, the Thunder have yet to play at Ruth Leedy Field for anything other than practice. This week, the team won a pair of away games against Aurora University and St. Mary’s College, improving their record to 11-3.

Though non-conference games, the Thunder brought little good-will to their systematic dismantling of nearby Aurora University. In typical Wheaton softball fashion, the bats led the way with the Thunder scoring 15 on 24 hits in two games. Graduate student Ellen Radandt went 5-9 on the day with two big doubles and a two-run shot. The Thunder made quick work of Aurora, despite a late rally in game one, with scores of 9-5 and 6-2.

In a matchup with St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., the Thunder again awoke the bats to do the work that cold March weather has prevented so often the last few years. A worthy opponent, St. Mary’s (8-5) broke open the scoring in game one, but strong pitching ensured that was all they would see on the day.

A late three-run home run by freshman Kelly Thornton backed up her sister’s effort on the mound, and senior Alyssa Leonard found a way to work two around the bases in game two, giving freshman Jaclyn McLean her second win of the year.

After winning five straight on the road, the team is playing confidently, a critical factor for the start of conference play against Augustana on April 2. Although they are ready to bring the momentum home, they’ll have to wait two more games as the Thunder hit the road again for a contest with Albion College in Albion, Mich. On Tuesday, the team returns to Wheaton for a long-awaited home opener against Calvin College.

It takes a village

For the softball team, spring break is more than just a first look at how the team measures up. For this small, close knit group of ladies, it’s a chance for them to get to know both their newest members and their parents.

It’s a regular practice for parents of almost every player on the team to make the long trip to Florida, some coming as far as California, Seattle and New Jersey, to cheer the girls on and participate in the Thunder softball family reunion.

As the team took a break from playing games on Sunday, the families and players gathered together for an afternoon of food, games and fellowship at the beach. This season, the players and families at the picnic totaled over 60 and gave the upperclassmen parents an opportunity to meet the freshman parents for the first time.

For the ladies, the families raise the level of intensity and appreciation for the spring games. “Having so many family members at our spring break games ups the enthusiasm and energy of us as players,” senior Emily Bonga said. “After all, family are the people who have been cheering us on since we were little t-ball players!”

Always sunny in Central Florida

After a tough loss in which the Thunder failed to defend a five-run lead late in their second to last game of the spring break series, most teams would have struggled to maintain confidence and poise. This Thunder team is not most teams, though.

After a few words from head coach Katie East, the team held an extended players-only meeting. In the final game of the trip less than half an hour later, the Thunder displayed mental resilience by scoring 11 runs in two innings in a stunning 12-1 squelching of Simmons College.

The experienced starting core, led by six seniors and a graduate student, showed the tenacity and team unity necessary to press through the ups and downs of what will be a long, and expectation-filled season for the preseason CCIW #2-ranked Thunder.

The Thunder concluded the beginning of their season in Clermont, Fla. with an impressive 7-3 record. Picking up right where they left off from their wildly successful, record-setting 2015 season, the Thunder relied upon the strong pitching of recently-named CCIW Pitcher of the Week, senior Katie Thornton, and the team’s characteristic long-ball hitting.

Even in games Thornton did not pitch, the Thunder were able to see strong performances out of the rest of their pitching staff. This included a six-plus inning victory over Rochester for sophomore Kendall Kehres.

Junior Abby Butler contributed from the mound in four games, as well. She earned a save and a critical play at home to save what would have been the tying run for Cornell College, who the Thunder defeated by one. Freshman Jaclyn McLean picked up eight and a third innings of work on the week, tallying four strikeouts and only one earned run in a strong start to her career.

Though the Thunder struggled to produce from behind the plate on a few occasions, they made up for it with three games of double-digit runs. Building on last season’s record setting team totals in doubles and home runs, the Thunder hit over 15 doubles and blasted four home runs, including senior Katie Yergler’s inside-the-park stretch.

The Thunder return from the break energized and ready to begin their pursuit of the school’s first CCIW championship. The Thunder travel to Aurora University on Thursday, and have a double header in Indiana against Saint Mary’s on Saturday.

Wheaton softball preview

To say expectations are high for this year’s Wheaton softball team is a gross understatement.

“Overall, this is the most talented team that I’ve ever coached,” head coach Katie East said without hesitation. “This is the most mature team, as well, in terms of experience.”

That’s about the best endorsement a team can ask of their fourth year coach. CCIW coaches agreed with East, predicting a second place finish for the Thunder in the conference’s preseason rankings. Illinois Wesleyan, the thorn in the side of the Thunder last year, was picked to finish first in the conference for the 2016 season.

In 2015, the Thunder were 0-3 against the Titans as Illinois Wesleyan went on to win the CCIW regular season and conference tournament. East envisions a different storyline in 2016.

“Without a doubt, it will be a fight this year to get first,” she said, “but we should take it.”

The origin of her confidence is the fact that East’s squad returns five seniors, all of whom were selected to last year’s all-conference team.

One of those seniors happens to be do-it-all pitcher and designated player, Katie Thornton. After being selected as the CCIW Player of the Year, setting the school record for most strikeouts in a season and batting .420 last season, expectations are even higher for Thornton this year. Because of her impact on both offense and defense, it can truly be said that as Thornton goes, so go the Thunder.

However, the team’s biggest weakness this year will be the depth, or lack thereof, behind Thornton in the pitching rotation. One of the pitchers behind the NFCA Second Team All-American is a freshman and the other is coming off an injury. If there are a few unknowns as the season approaches, they are about the team’s pitching.

Regardless, East’s expectations remain high with a lofty goal of at least 30 wins this year, one season after the Thunder set a new program record in 2014 with 24 wins.

Because 12 players have the potential to hit over .350 this season, hitting will undoubtedly be a strength for the Thunder. The addition of freshman Hannah Clark adds another offensive weapon for the team as she has a chance to be an all-conference player in her first season.

In order to overcome Illinois Wesleyan, the Thunder need consistency. As East explained, there were multiple innings last year when the team scored over six runs, but then followed them with three or four scoreless innings. Against the Titans, these kinds of lapses cannot happen. East is convinced that the team will be able to hurdle these obstacles when the time comes.

“Last year was a breakout year for us and now those returners have the confidence to mentally say that we are good,” she explained. “They can have that mental toughness to just play like we’re supposed to play.”

Over-confidence is always a factor to accompany high expectations, but with a senior-laden team, a top two finish in the CCIW seems like a safe bet for the Thunder. Exactly which spot will entirely depend on the team’s ability to out-hit their pitching when the situation requires it.