Youth ignites Rockets' spring squads
RANDOLPH – When eighth-grade pitcher Morgyn Otte takes to the rubber for Randolph, there's another eighth-grader in front of her in catcher Megan Erickson. Behind her in the infield is freshman Mackenna Otte and sophomore Andrea Splichal. In center field, a junior in Skyler Turek.
There is plenty of age discrepancies on the Rockets' softball team. But success and a desire to help the school win a fifth straight Southeast Conference title has a way to erase the age gaps.
“We don't classify as younger kids and older kids,” Morgyn said. “Just one team.”
And that team has managed to start the 2017 season strong with an 8-0 record and a No. 8 ranking in the first Class 1A state poll.
“We played this summer all together and it's just clicking,” Erickson said. “We're all standing together. We're playing well, especially when we get our bats going.”
The battery has been a vital part of Randolph's early success. The pitching duo of Morgyn and sophomore Lindsey Grant have been nearly impossible to hit for opposing teams. In last Friday's conference doubleheader versus Glenville-Emmons, Grant threw a no-hitter in Game 1 while Morgyn struck out eight and allowed one hit in the nightcap.
Head coach Dennis Trom was quick to admit he hasn't had a 1-2 pitching combo quite like Grant and Morgyn.
“Not even close,” Trom said. “Last year Lindsey was our main pitcher, but she was a little wild. This season, we're so consistent. We know the pitchers will throw strikes. We don't have to throw it down the pipe if we get behind. That helps a lot.”
Erickson added, “Once I find the right pitch, if it's inside or outside, I want to keep them there. If it's a good batter, we focus on staying inside.”
The biggest early-season success came in the Rockets' 12-4 win over Hayfield, the two-time defending section champions. Morgyn was the winning pitcher, holding the Vikings to four hits and three walks in a complete-game victory.
“I think everyone was excited to go into the locker room. We were all screaming and yelling and happy,” Morgyn said. “It was nice to have that feeling.”
At the plate, Erickson was 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored against Hayfield.
“Trom said the win would be huge for us,” Erickson said. “We all had our heads high and we just kept playing hard.”
Erickson added about Randolph's early success, “We're trying to get our fifth conference championship in a row. We're really working.”
Across the road, another one of Randolph's teams is practicing with its own group of young players hoping to maintain its success.“We set a standard”
Five of the Randolph baseball team's starters are either freshmen or sophomores along with four seniors. No juniors are on the roster. Sitting ninth in the Class 1A rankings with a 4-1 record, the Rockets have managed to avoid a drop-off from last year's Section 1A finals team.
“We have to rely on those (younger) kids and they were ready to step up,” said Randolph head baseball coach Chris Stanton. “Our junior high coaches have done a great job getting these guys ready to play at our level.”
Up the middle of the infield are a pair of freshmen in second baseman Matt Weber and shortstop/pitcher Nick Drinken. Stanton said both ninth-graders bring something a little different to the table.
Weber brings plenty of swagger and confidence, according to his coach.
“I've done enough in the off-season that I'm confident that I'll be pretty good,” Weber said. “We've gotten a lot closer in the last couple of games, I'd say. As a team, as friends, everything. We're doing well, too.”
Then there's Drinken, who Stanton said has the best hands on the team and has a strong fastball and curveball in his pitching repertoire.
“My key was throwing harder. That was personally what I wanted to do if I wanted to play varsity,” Drinken said. “And a big thing is confidence just to keep going even if you get hit around on the mound. No matter what happens, you just have to keep throwing strikes.”
The freshmen are surrounded by solid sophomores in Andrew Wenstrom, Joey Erickson and Jack Bennerotte. Mixed in with the four starting seniors, youth has not slowed down the Rockets thus far.
“We play well together more so than our talent,” Drinken said “We play together and that makes us good.”
Just like the softball team across the road, there's a degree of success that's expected for every age.
“We set a standard, people know we're going to be successful,” Weber said. “Baseball is probably one of the most successful boys sports we have at the school and we want to keep it like that and just keep getting wins.”