April 1, 2011
By David Boyce
Northwest Missouri State women's softball team heads into today's doubleheader at Pittsburg State with a right to feel good.
The Bearcats are coming off an impressive weekend in which they swept doubleheaders from Washburn and Fort Hays State.
The second win against Fort Hays was particularly revealing about the type of team Northwest is fielding this season.
"We had the lead early and then Hays pounded the ball and went up by three in the seventh inning," Northwest coach Ryan Anderson said.
"Last year we might have scraped a couple of hits out and tried to make it competitive, but we would have come up short."
But this isn't last year when Anderson brought in nine freshmen and two transfers. The Bearcats went through growing pains, had their ups and downs and finished 26-24 overall and 9-11 in the MIAA.
The youngsters are growing up on the softball field and were undaunted by a seventh-inning deficit even with the leadoff hitter failing to reach first base in the top of the seventh.
Two Bearcats got on and then senior Dacey Hassey blasted a three-run homer and the team wanted more.
"We just kept fighting for it," Anderson said.
|Coach Ryan Anderson|
"It feels really great," said outfielder Kit Daugherty. "I don't think anybody expected us to have this kind of start. I honestly think we can compete with anybody in our conference.
"Yes, there are some teams ranked like Mo. West and UNO and Emporia. But I think on a good day we can play with anybody in the nation."
Daugherty is one example of the difference a year can make. A year ago she was in her first season at Northwest after transferring from Iowa Central Community College.
She got off to a good start, but rolled her ankle in the middle of the season and missed some games. She was also battling shoulder pain. She hit .261 with four home runs and 26 RBIs.
The pain persisted in her shoulder through last summer and she eventually had surgery on her labrum in September.
"I really didn't know if I would play this season," Daugherty said. "I was told by a few people that it would be a small chance that I would be able to play because the recovery time for this was a lot longer than they expected.
"I rehabbed all during winter break. I didn't go home because I really wanted to play this season. I was actually two months ahead of schedule of where I thought I would be in February."
Anderson never doubted that she would be back.
"Coming out of high school and junior college I knew she was a competitor," Anderson said. "She was a kid who had only one gear and that was to go hard.
"I thought she could do it. She's also a kid who comes in every day and hits extra on her own. That's paying off with her swing."
Like many of the Bearcats, Daugherty is off to a great start with the bat. She leads the team in hitting with a .430 average and her four home runs ties her with Kristen Hessel for the team lead.
"Yes, I'm off to a pretty good start, but I don't want to jinx myself," Daugherty said.
It's an approach Anderson wants his team to take. Yes, they are off to a nice start, but their focus right now should only be on the doubleheader at Pittsburg State. After they finish that doubleheader, he wants them to be ready for Saturday's doubleheader at Missouri Southern.
"They have to realize last weekend is over," Anderson said. "It doesn't really matter. We had a great weekend, got four wins, but it is over.
"We got to keep building. We have two new opponents and they are in the same boat. They are going to come out swinging the bats and try to beat us. We have to be ready to go."
The Bearcats realize that Pittsburg State and Missouri Southern might be a little sharper just because they were able to practice outside a little more in March than Northwest.
On average, the temperature is at least 15 degrees colder in Maryville in February and March than it is in Pittsburg and Joplin.
Even this week, Northwest had to practice inside some because the temperatures were in the 30s. This is something teams in the northern half of the MIAA must endure every season.
"You can sure tell the difference from the teams who practice outside in February and even early March when we are still stuck inside," Anderson said.
"The balls are different coming off the ground. You can't work with the outfielders. The pitchers are the same way. They are pitching on a perfect surface inside. When they go outside they have to deal with holes and all that.
"It's a huge advantage down there, but it is something that we have to play through."
You would think Daugherty would be used to playing in cold weather since she's from Iowa. But she said Iowa plays its high school season during the summer.
"It was a lot different in high school, especially my junior year we were playing with 110 heat indexes and it was awful," Daugherty said. "To be honest, I'd rather play in that weather than the weather we are playing in now."
And yet, the Bearcats have prospered so far in what has been a cooler than normal late winter and early spring.
As the weather warms up in April, they plan on still being as hot on the field as they have been in March.
"I think we will be the team that other teams overlook," Daugherty said. "I think last weekend Washburn and Hays overlooked us, but now they see we can compete with everyone else."
Anderson knows the next month he will learn a lot about his team. He expects all the conference games to be tough.
Northwest is one of four teams that are undefeated in league play.
"I think these early conference games can go either way. I think that is true for everybody," he said. "You have to show up. There are no weak teams you can roll over."
Today's doubleheader in Pittsburg, Kan., begins at 3 p.m. Tomorrow's games with Missouri Southern will begin at 2 p.m.
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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