For 20 seasons Jim White has thrived at developing the correct formula to win softball games.
Entering his third season at Solon, the veteran coach felt he had the recipe to continue that success.
With all-state pitcher Emily Ira back in the circle, several key components of last year’s lineup lost to graduation and powerful infielder Ali Herdliska lost for the start of the season with a broken wrist, White believed the blueprint for winning was simple.
“We thought, we just have to push a couple of runs across and win 2-1, that was the mentality,” White said. “At the beginning of the year we were working on different things to win 2-1, 3-2-type ball games.”
White’s plan has worked — in a way.
Ira has sparkled in the circle and the wins have followed.
Class 3A top-ranked Solon is 39-3 entering its state tournament opener on Tuesday against Clarke (20-17) at Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
However, Solon hasn’t had to squeak out many 2-1 games.
The team that many felt would have to manufacture runs started hammering the ball and never slowed down.
“At the beginning of the season I wasn’t so sure how we’d be on offense, but we put in a lot of hard work and dedicated a lot of time to getting better,” junior catcher Monika Bevans said. “It’s definitely paying off.”
Paying off to the tune of the most productive lineup in the state.
Solon enters state tournament play leading the state in five major offensive categories, including runs (377), hits (532) and team batting average (.452).
The Spartans have scored more than five runs in 33 of their 39 games this season and put up double-digit run totals 22 times.
Solon averages nearly nine runs per game and also leads the state in doubles and slugging percentage and ranks second in both on-base percentage and RBI.
“I definitely think this is as good a hitting team as I’ve been on,” Solon senior center fielder Taylor Nearad said. “Our hitting has been contagious this year. Once one person gets a hit we just keep going.”
The production for the dangerous and historically-efficient Solon lineup starts at the top.
Junior leadoff hitter Sydney Lawson has 77 runs and 55 stolen bases, both tops in the state, while posting a batting average of .563 and an on-base percentage of .600.
Ira has done more than just sparkle in the circle, where she is 25-2 with a .50 ERA.
The Western Illinois recruit leads the state with 88 base hits and is hitting .615 from the No. 2 spot in the Solon lineup.
Nearad follows with a .524 batting average and is tied with Bevans for the team lead with eight home runs and ranks fourth in the state with 66 RBI.
Herdliska has returned from the injury that cost her 16 games to blast six home runs and drive in 36 runs in just 85 at-bats.
The South Dakota State recruit has a team-best. 918 slugging percentage.
“We have speed at the top and Emily has some power too and the middle is so strong,” Lawson said. “Then we have speed at the bottom so we have a good mix of speed and power and we hit for average. It’s mainly about being consistent, that’s what we focus on.”
Solon’s lineup is as balanced as it is productive.
The three left-handers (Lawson, Ira and Nearad) that bolster the top of the lineup with speed also have power with a combined 69 extra bases between them, including 12 home runs.
Bevans and Herdliska, the big right-handed bats in the middle of the order, have combined for 14 home runs and 88 RBI.
“I think we are really difficult to defend because every left-hander can bunt, every left-hander can slap and they can hit away and that just changes the course of the game and all of our right-handers have power,” White said. “It’s a really nice mix as a group.”
The final piece of the puzzle for the Solon lineup is depth.
All nine regular starters for the Spartans are batting over .333 and have at least 17 RBI.
Sophomore Jess Heick has five home runs and 34 RBI from the No. 6 spot in the order while the ninth-place hitter, sophomore Lexi Stebral, is batting .340 with 19 RBI.
First baseman McKenna Miller (.33) and junior right fielder Nichole Oberthein (.347) both boast batting averages over the .300 mark.
Miller, Oberthein and Stebral are all in their first year as full-time starters.
“We had a lot of younger players that were new to the varsity scene and they have definitely handled it very well,” Bevans said. “I feel confident throughout the whole lineup. I know the top of the lineup is going to get on and the bottom is going to come through.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Solon’s offensive output
Runs: 377 (1st in the state)
Hits: 532 (1st in the state)
Doubles: 109 (1st in the state)
HR: 32 (7th in the state)
RBI: 329 (2nd in the state)
OBP: .502 (2nd in the state)
SLG: .640 (1st in the state)
BA: .452 (1st in the state)