Photo by Bill Roseberry
Alton softball coach Dan Carter talks with second baseman Tomi Dublo before an at-bat on March 28 at AHS against Roxana. The Redbirds are off to a fast start in 2016.
Dan Carter and his Alton Redbird softball team have reason to smile so far in 2016.
The Birds have spread their wings, sharpened their talons and feasted on early season competition. They were off to a 10-1 start overall and sported a 4-1 mark in the Southwestern Conference through Wednesday. It’s their best start since beginning 12-1 in 2013. That year Alton was 9-0 to get things percolating. The Redbirds were 8-0 this season before suffering their lone blemish, a 9-2 setback to Edwardsville at home on April 5.
Chemistry seems to be the winning formula — Alton returned everyone from the 2015 squad and added in contributing freshman Tami Wong to boot.
“I’m very pleased,” said Carter, at the helm of the Redbirds since 2000. “We’re off to a good start. I’m very pleased with the conference race. Obviously we would have liked to have gotten Edwardsville and we didn’t play real well that night, but after going back and looking at the stats we didn’t play that bad either. We could have been sharper on defense. We had opportunities and just weren’t able to get the big hit. We stranded 12 runners, so we had runners on base and just weren’t able to get the big hits and score runs.
“I’ve been telling the girls we are good enough to compete with anybody out there. Competing doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but we do have the opportunity to go out and compete night in and night out and the girls believe in what we’re doing and they’re working hard.”
Carter thinks the way the softball program has been constructed as a whole has been key to success. Alton has won 20-plus games in each of the last three seasons.
“We have a program up here at the high school that’s not just the high school program,” Carter said. “It’s a district program. Coach (Katie) Wilson and I both coach at the middle school and our high school girls go down and they help out at the middle school level. The girls throughout the district know each other; sixth grade up to 12th grade they know each other a little bit and it’s nice to have that.”
It’s definitely helped with Wong’s emergence. Through Wednesday, Wong is hitting .487 with 1 home run, 14 RBIs, 4 doubles and owns a .718 slugging percentage, all near the top in offensive categories for the team.
“They all know each other already,” Carter said. “They may be surprised that she’s doing as good as she is, but the chemistry is pretty good. You put 13 high school girls together, there’s going to be good days and bad days, but for the most part they get along together pretty well. They don’t have to be best friends, but when they cross that line they have to be best friends and this group of girls is having fun.”
The offensive prowess of the Birds has been outstanding to kick off the season. They are averaging 8 runs per game thus far, and up and down the lineup the statistics look good.
Through Wednesday, Tomi Dublo (.333, 2 doubles, 3 home runs, 12 RBIs), Savannah Fisher (.359, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 6 RBIs), Bronte Fencel (.250, 1 double, 1 home run, 9 RBIs), Katelyn Presley (.459, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 3 RBIs), Sydney Hartman (.389, 2 doubles, 8 RBIs) and Miranda Hudson (.367, 1 double, 2 home runs, 10 RBIs) have swung solid sticks to stir the torrid start.
It’s been clutch hitting, too. Dublo’s two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning led Alton to a big 4-2 victory at Belleville East on March 31.
“Against Granite City it was 3-0, a comfortable lead and in the bottom of the fourth Bronte Fencel hit a big two-run home run to give us that 5-0 cushion and she’s batting seventh on the team,” Carter said. “She has that ability too, just to drive the ball. Up and down the lineup they all work hard. We’ve got an approach and we’re going up there looking for stuff. We make in-game adjustments and we talk about that a lot, not getting frustrated. In this sport you’re going to fail sometimes. A good hitter is going to fail 6 out of 10 times; you’re still hitting .400 and we’ll take that.”
Of course in softball it all revolves around pitching, and senior Brittany Roady is Alton’s workhorse. She’s 10-1 with a 0.80 ERA and owned 81 strikeouts to just 11 walks in 69.2 innings pitched through Wednesday.
Carter admitted it’s about keeping her fresh for the home stretch and the Birds are working at their depth with Fisher and Hartman.
“If you don’t have a pitcher it’s tough,” Carter said. “Brittany’s one of the best around and she’s pitching real well. I’m hoping it warms up because she’ll pitch even better when it gets warmer. Hopefully we’re not going to have to ride her too hard and that’s going to be my decision. Coming down to the last half of the season we’re going to have to pick and chose when we pitch her. We want her to be healthy for the games on the schedule we need her for down the stretch.
“We’re going to start developing a No. 2 pitcher and Savannah Fisher and Sydney Hartman have been working real hard in bullpen sessions and we’re going to start getting them innings when we get a chance. Right now Brittany’s been our workhorse and she does a great job every day.”
Time well tell, but if the ending matches the beginning, the Redbirds could be in for a memorable 2016 season.
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