Heading into Monday’s softball opener for first-year Kewanee coach Rob Weston, he was hoping his team would be competitive. And for a while, it wasn’t looking that way.
Trailing 9-1 to Princeton, Weston had confidence in his team’s hitting ability. That confidence became reality as Kewanee rallied for an 11-10 wild win.
“The first time around the order we didn’t hit and I put that on jitters,” he said. “I knew the hitting would come around.”
Shelbi Murphy reached base with the score tied at 10 in the bottom of the 7th and her speed allowed her to steal second and third base. Courtney Brown then delivered the walk off hit lifting the Boiler Girls to 1-0 on the young season.
“Right from day one they absorbed everything we’re teaching them. There’s no quit in them and that was one thing I was really happy about.” Weston said. “A lot of teams will fold when it’s 9-1. We went to work and they didn’t hang their heads.”
Weston brings an experienced background into his first year at the helm of the Boiler Girls. He has spent time coaching different traveling teams around the area and was the assistant coach for a record-breaking Galva Wildcats team last year.
“We want to be in every game,” he said of his expectations this year. “We want to be that team that you don’t want to play come regionals.”
Weston views the strength of his group as speed and a strong offensive attack, as was the case Monday. Eight of the nine batters in the lineup recorded hits in the contest and as a team they stole six bases.
Setting the table in the lineup is Lakeland College commit Dani Neuleib. The senior catcher recorded three hits Monday, including a home run straight into a wind that was gusting up to 25 miles per hour at times.
“She hit it right into the teeth of the wind. She smoked it,” said Weston. “She hits the ball hard every time. Everything that girl gets she deserves. I see her at batting cages all the time. She’s a good kid and she can really hit the ball.”
There may be many different faces on the mound for Kewanee this season. Brown got the start Monday, but freshman Rylee Cooper also tossed five innings of relief. Shelbi Murphy, Josie DeBord and Chloe Hatfield are also capable of firing some innings this year.
The Boiler Girls have a mixture of youth and experience on the team with three seniors, six juniors, one sophomore and three freshmen.
As Weston looks to build up a Kewanee softball program that hasn’t won a regional since 2004 and hasn’t finished above .500 since 2005, the emergence of a junior high softball program and traveling teams in town should bode well in the long run.
“The junior high teams are huge and the travel teams in town are huge,” he said. “Girls are getting experience that you just can’t get in town. Girls all the way down to eight years old are getting better.”
Kewanee is back in action Thursday with a Three Rivers Conference rematch at Princeton.
Here are the 2018 Kewanee varsity softball team members:
Seniors –– Carson Mallery, Mackenzie Mirocha and Dani Neuleib
Juniors –– Elysse Prescott, Chloe Hatfield, Lilly DeBord, Courtney Brown, Tayiah Murphey and Madelynn Uitermarkt
Sophomore –– Shelbi Murphy
Freshmen –– Josie DeBord, Emma LaFollette and Rylee Cooper
Varsity head coach –– Rob Weston
Fresh/soph head coach –– Maria Sakellaris
Assistant coaches –– Karly Allen, Mike Pannell, Jon DeBord and J.R. Salisbury
Manager –– Stephanie Duarte