Leathernecks’ season depends on pitching


Freshman Emily Ira has struck out 99 batters in her first season with the Leathernecks.

Zach Martin

I enjoy watching softball.

I know, weird, right? You’d think baseball would be my top sport to watch. Well, it’s actually college basketball, and baseball is a close second.

But softball is up there. And since this is a Western Illinois softball column, why not show my love and appreciation for this gritty group of young women.

I’ve written multiple stories on this team. I’m the color commentator for them, so I’ve seen them in person.

And what have I taken away from the two stories and three games of watching this team? They’re a group of that can contend in the Summit League.

From the top of the order to the bottom, they have a nice balance of power and contact.

Karissa Kouchis and Tierney Bottino set the tone at the top of the order and set up the RBI machine in Kelsey Marlow, and the power bats Holly Hoelting and Aly Compton.

Head down to the bottom of the lineup, there’s a lot of grit.

Nina Maggio, Taylor Messer and Rachel Beatty give the Leathernecks a solid 7-8-9 core to deliver clutch hits and set up Kouchis and Bottino, who get on base like no other.

The batting order is solid, but my only concern is this: can Western score enough runs when they face more difficult pitching?

They have yet to face NDSU’s Jacquelyn Sertic and the duo of Kaitlynn Moody and Brooke Boetjer for
IUPUI, the top three pitchers in the Summit League based on earned run average.

Sertic is having a great year, a minimal 2.00 ERA, 15 wins and she’s striking out 11 batters per contest since conference play has started.

Moody and Boetjer, not that far off. Arguably the best 1-2 punch in the league and both combined have had 105 hitters going back to the dugout.

If the Leathernecks can’t find enough runs against the top pitchers, then they’ll have problems to find wins.

Because the pitching can’t do it all.

I’m already a huge Emily Ira fan. The freshman from Iowa City has proven her worthiness of being a No. 1 pitcher at the Division I level.

The Solon alum has struck out 99 batters this season and when I saw her pitch the first and third game against South Dakota State, I came away very impressed.

Not only was she able to get her strikeouts, but her fly ball and ground ball outs were placed perfectly and is showing great maturity for her first year.

Behind her, senior Kacyee Hart has struggled.

She’s getting plenty of run support, but she’s allowing big innings and the offense suddenly goes quiet. A perfect example would be the final game of the Hoosier Classic against Indiana University, where Western scored seven runs in the top of the first, and Hart let that lead slip away.

I feel bad for her because it’s her last year in a Leatherneck jersey, but at the end of the day, she’s got to pitch better.

Peyton Abbot is their best reliever as Brooke Stulga and Megan Lotarski have not been on the top of their game.

It’s great to see the starting pitching and bullpen being led by freshmen, but what concerns me is how long they’ll keep the performance up?

If Ira and Abbot continue their stellar pitching, the offense should continue to provide run support. If they fall off, then Western will be on thin ice.

This team has every capable ability to finish in the top three. But they also have the ability to fall off and not make the conference tournament.

Only time will tell.