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Outdoor play looks to help Morris softball succeed

MORRIS – For the first time this “spring” season, the Morris softball team finally got to go outside and play on the grass on Tuesday.

“This is actually our fifth time outside,” Morris coach Jen Lowery said. “We’ve been going out on the parking lot, but we felt that the field was dry enough to get out here and set up the field.”

The “field” was actually the strip of land between Morris High and Shabbona Middle Schools in the valley. There the team was able to take grounders and run through situations in the open air. The Redskins open their season on Friday against Yorkville in the Jacksonville ‘Play the Turf’ Jamboree.

“The weather on Saturday is supposed to be in the 40s on Saturday down in Jacksonville now,” Lowery said. “So, we’re were going down to play in nicer weather and we’re getting the same weather we’ve been having around here.”

Only playing on fields that are mostly dried out and ready to go, even if it’s against teams like Lakes Community (Saturday at 3:45) and Jacksonville (Saturday at 6 p.m.) who likely have played games already in the south where the weather has been warmer to this point.

“We’re looking forward to getting out and playing. There is an advantage to having seen the ball off the dirt. We’ve only seen it off of the gym floor where it is going to take a consistent hop,” Lowery said. “But we had live hitting yesterday, which we struggled with. We’re going to try one more round of live hitting before we head down there. That is going to be a big thing, too. Seeing a pitcher instead of a machine. I think that gives someone that has had games already an advantage.”

Morris returns seven starters off of last year’s team, which should bode well this time around, even if various players have been out because of illness, the election or the coming band trip in recent days. Redskins senior Maddy Feeney thinks that the team will be ready, although not playing outside before Friday may present a challenge.

“Not going out will affect us more than people being out, but I think we are going to be going in strong this weekend,” she said. “We’re excited to see what we have this weekend. I think we’re going to do good.”

Outlook: The seven returning starters for Morris this year include: Alex Cook at catcher, Tayla Torkelson at second, Leah Lines at short, Lauren Severson at third, Kellen Bernickus in left, Maddy Feeney in center and Kelly Kolotka in right. Alex Kjellesvik is also back as a utility player, but she is out sick. 

“We have a couple of positions that have changed this year but most of it is the same and I think that will help us a lot,” Feeney said.

Laurel Harper is expected to pick up much of the slack left due to the graduation of pitcher Erica Gualandi, though Kelly Kolotka and others will also be in line for slab duties.

This weekend the whole staff may get the chance to show what they can do.

“Abby Burns, Melissa Benson, Taylor Watters and Kelly is going to throw (this weekend) but she (Kolotka) just had her knee scoped, so we don’t want to push her too much,” Lowery said. “We don’t want to push her this early in the season.”

Kolotka is also going to see time at first base, along with Emma Thomas. Megan Leblanc will vie for time at second base and Taylor Cole is also a utility player looking for extra playing time.

“We have a small squad,” Lowery concedes. “Our biggest thing will be to avoid injuries and to be consistent.”

Still, so many returning starters has Feeney looking at things optimistically.

“I feel like having people back that played on varsity last year is going to help us a lot because we also know a lot about the other teams,” she said. “I feel like we are going to have a good season going in.”

“This year’s squad has a great attitude and work ethic,” Lowery said. “We have a lot of speed and consistency, so offensively we will be able to play small ball, to put the ball in play when we need a hit and to be aggressive on the base paths. If we can put the ball in play this year, our defense should be strong this year. We just have to put the ball in play and score some runs.”

Starting right off the bat with Yorkville in a rivalry game that will serve as a Northern Illinois Big 12 East Conference preview.

“Yorkville will be a team to beat,” Feeney said. “We play them the first game of the season so that will be a good experience for us.”

“We always seem to have a tough matchup with Yorkville,” Lowery said. “It always is very competitive.”

Regardless of the opponent, its the chance to get some games in this weekend.

“We’re using Jacksonville as a chance to get some games in and to shake the rust off before we come back here and start in full force day after day,” Lowery said. “The girls are confident and we are confident. We have everybody back from last year except for our first baseman and pitcher. Otherwise everyone is a veteran starter from a year ago. They have a year under their belts and that helps their confidence. Hopefully that means we’ll be over .500 and finish first or second in the conference.”

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