As second-year coach Stacey Stepek tries to build a winning attitude within the Hampshire softball program, she also understands that even some losses can be beneficial.
What Stepek wants more than anything is for her team to be competitive, especially when it plays established Class 4A programs, most specifically those in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division.
So while the FVC Fox-leading Whip-Purs lost to Prairie Ridge 12-7 in nine innings in a league crossover Friday in Hampshire, Stepek's postgame mood remained positive.
"We played a very good game," said Stepek. "Playing a team like Prairie Ridge, with a good pitcher and a very good hitting team, it gives them more of an idea of what to expect in the next couple weeks when we play teams like Jacobs, McHenry and Burlington Central and then head into (Class 3A) regionals."
But before the Whips (18-10) get to those teams the last week of the regular season, they take on Fox foes Grayslake North Tuesday then Crystal Lake Central Wednesday and again May 19 as they try to win the program's first conference title since 1981. And taking the Wolves (14-7) to an extra-inning battle Friday will no nothing but help, Stepek says.
"It really does help our confidence," she said. "We just talked about how everyone in the lineup is pulling their weight. The bottom part of the lineup has been stepping up with timely hits and clutch hits."
Hampshire carried a 7-5 lead into the top of the seventh inning Friday but PR was able to get an infield single from Maddie Drain and a bloop single to right field from Sammi Chapnick to open the inning. After Sarah Rohloff laid down a sacrifice bunt, Alyssa Doomis (2-for-5) doubled down the left-field line to score both runs and tie the game. Hampshire junior Haley Widmayer was able to get out of the jam with some defensive help from freshman second baseman Erin Doyle, who snared an Emily Widger liner and doubled Doomis off second to end the inning.
But Wolves' freshman right-hander Hailey Baker, who has committed to Division I Florida Gulf Coast, settled in and didn't allow Hampshire to score after the fifth inning. She allowed the Whips only two baserunners in their final four at-bats.
Widmayer was able to set PR down in order in the eighth but coach Mike Buck's squad broke loose in the top of the ninth, scoring 5 runs on 3 hits and using a throwing error to help the cause. Rohloff drove in Kate Didier, who led off the inning with a single, with the go-ahead run and leadoff hitter Claire Bowman (4-for-6, 2B, 4 RBI) ripped a 2-run triple to add insurance.
"This is probably one of the better hitting teams I've ever had," said Buck, who has been a high school softball coach for over 30 years. "This is also a group that never gives up. But give Hampshire credit. That's a good ballclub and (Stepek) is doing a great job with them. We're lucky to get out of here with a win."
The Wolves rapped out 16 hits on the day. Didier and Drain had 3 hits each and Sammi Hempen had 2. Baker struck out 6 and walked 4 in the complete-game win. Senior Sara Finn, who will play at Wisconsin-Whitewater next year, blasted her second home run of the season for Hampshire, which is still without one of its leading hitters, freshman Peyton DeChant, due to injury. Brittany Sujet had 3 hits and 2 RBI, while Widmayer, Aly Snider, Becca Hurst (RBI), Doyle and freshman Renee Malecke (RBI) each had 2 hits. Widmayer struck out 7 and walked only 1.
"Some of the mistakes we made were still young mistakes," Stepek said. "They're a learning experience. Hopefully everything gets clicking at the right time. These girls never quit."