Ask Coal City High School graduate Krista Watson what the biggest key was to playing her junior year with Augustana College this past spring and she is quick with an answer.
“We set goals every year and this year one was to win the conference and the other was to win the conference tournament,” she said. “Because both of those would get us into the postseason.”
While Augustana did not win the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin this year, the Vikings surprised a lot of people by coming through on their second goal by winning the CCIW Conference Tournament.”
“We won the conference tournament and got to go to regionals,” Watson said. “It was unexpected because we had lost to Carthage and Wesleyan before. The third time we played them, we beat Wesleyan and they were seeded ahead of us.”
The tournament was held in Kenosha, WI where they ran the table by winning three-straight games, including a 7-6 win in the opener against Illinois Wesleyan.
“We were down a lot when we came back and won it,” she said. “It was unbelievable.”
The Vikings were losing 6-3 heading into the top of the seventh before rallying for the win.
Up next was Carthage, a team that won the CCIW regular season and had beaten Augustana twice during the regular season, winning by scores of 14-3 and 4-3.
“We had lost to them twice and one of those games was by the run-rule,” Watson explained. “But then we beat them in the conference tournament and then again in the championship.”
The top four teams in the CCIW make the conference tournament. In addition to Wesleyan, Carthage and Augustana, the fourth team this year was North Central.
Augustana beat Carthage in the semifinals 2-1 and then 4-0 in the finals.
“That meant we got to go to the regional and we played five games there,” Watson said.
The NCAA Regional Tournament was held in Pella, IA in early May, and as Watson indicated, the team played five times. The Vikings lost to Fontbonne 5-2 in the opener but then battled back through the loser’s-bracket to win three straight. Those wins came against Cornell (7-1), Washington (3-2) and Coe (5-1) before their season came to an end with a 5-4 loss to Thomas.
“It was nice, we sent three teams home in that tournament,” Watson said. “We played good games. It was totally unexpected that we would go that far. It was a total team effort. Even from the people who were not playing, they were there and kept our spirits up. That helped us go as far as we did. It shows the hard work that we put in.”
On the personal front, Watson had a bit of a roller coaster year her junior season. Despite a drop off in batting average from .380 a year ago and .377 as a freshman where she hit .267, she did match a career high in RBI with 25 while hitting seven home runs.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t do what I felt I was capable of doing,” she said. “At the beginning of the year I was concerned about my batting average and the numbers, but then I realized I had to stop doing that. The most important thing is to play to win and that’s when I stopped looking at my statistics.”
The biggest thing that was different from her freshman year to her sophomore year was that Watson went from hitting eight home runs to just one, this despite hitting 18 doubles as a sophomore. Watson bounced back with the power numbers this year but was it because she was trying to hit the long-ball again?
“The issue for me is that, when you go up to the plate and try and hit a home run, you find yourself dipping,” she said. “That instead of thinking about just getting a hit and knocking in a run or just getting on base.”
Besides, knocking in runs is what Watson has become known for. She has 72 in three seasons with the Vikings.
“The RBI is the most important thing. That and getting on base,” Watson said. “But when you go up there and try to hit home runs, you usually either end up striking out or popping up.”
Watson is the starting shortstop for coach Kris Kistler and for her efforts there this season, Watson received the “Best Defensive Player” award by the team.
“I wanted to be at the top of my field, in the field,” Watson said. “I’ve finally started to play defense the way I wanted to. I was finally making plays this year. Defensively, it was a better year for me. I felt a lot better about it than I have in the past.”
With one season left, Watson is hoping to put a fitting capper on her collegiate career next spring with a solid offense and defensive season, not to mention repeating similar success that the Vikings had as a team this year.
“I’d like to get back to where we were last year, but then doing it by making it easier on ourselves,” she said. “I was us to go after the (regular-season) conference title. If we could have won a few more key games this year, it would have made things easier on us. Then the ultimate goal would be for us to get to the NCAA Tournament. To do that, it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever had.”