MUSCATINE, Iowa — It’s not that much time.
The Muscatine Community College softball team gets only about 20 minutes between games in its doubleheaders, but that 20 minutes is enough to make the difference between winning and losing for the Cardinals.
MCC played a crisp game Saturday afternoon at Kent-Stein Park to knock off Indian Hills Community College 6-3 in Game 1 of its Iowa Community College Athletic Conference doubleheader.
It was a different story in the second game.
The Cardinals committed six errors, which led directly to seven runs for the Warriors, who earned a split with a 9-3 win that left the Cardinals a bit perplexed after the same thing happened Friday night at Iowa Western Community College.
“Our first game, we always come out strong, which is always a good thing,” MCC second baseman Jessica Newton said. “Then the second game, I don’t know what it is; we can’t pull through [and] start off strong, and we need that.”
MCC (33-12, 6-6 ICCAC) coach Scott Beatty has an idea why it keeps happening, but it's no easy fix.
“We talk about that, having the approach to finish what’s going on. Doubleheaders aren’t easy to compete in … so it does take a mental push for that,” Beatty said. “… There was nothing physical that we changed. It’s the mental approach and lackadaisical attitude that we have to continue to work on.”
That edge was there in the first game when the Cardinals rallied to win with six runs over the final three innings. The team got key hits, shortstop Kaylee Jones made several nice plays in the Cardinals' error-less effort, and there was solid pitching from Kayla Gaunt, who had pitched a nine-inning shutout the night before at Iowa Western.
Newton had one of those hits, driving home two runs in the fifth inning to tie the game at 3-all after Indian Hills (21-23, 4-8) took an early lead on Lindsay Moore’s three-run third inning home run.
“I kind of like that pressure of knowing that my bat hasn’t been strong right now, but getting that hit and knowing I needed it, hearing the girls in the dugout telling me I can — just that mentality going into it knowing that we needed that hit to spark something, that really helps,” Newton said.
Maddie Kaalberg got the Cardinals the lead an inning later in a grinding at-bat that led to a run-scoring groundout and a 4-3 lead. Bailey Oetting, who was 2 for 3 in the first game, drove two more home in the sixth with a double to put the game away.
That instinct was lacking in the nightcap for the Cardinals with Bailey Blake in the circle.
The freshman pitched just 3 1/3 innings, giving up eight runs on eight hits. However, just two of the runs were earned, a two-run Paige Schreiner home run in the third inning.
“Legitimately, two runs are on her on the home run, but the rest of them we’ve left on the infield making poor defensive decisions,” Beatty said of Blake. “[We got] her out, [gave] them a different look. But at the same time, she’s important to us. We want to keep her mentally into the game.”
MCC’s defensive struggles are making it that much harder on Blake. She has been the unfortunate beneficiary of poor defense and little offense in her last two starts.
“We do fine when we do our infield/outfield drill,” Newton said. “As soon as we get into the game, something just happens. We just need to find out what that something is and fix it.”
Newton hopes the Cardinals can find the fix this week when they play non-conference doubleheaders Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the start of regional play next Saturday at Iowa Western.
And Beatty felt like his team missed an opportunity yesterday to make a statement by sweeping the Warriors after doing the same to conference foe Southeastern Wednesday and splitting with the league champion Reivers Friday.
But that doesn’t mean he heads into regional play feeling any less confident considering those three teams are the Cardinals’ competition, assuming they can get past their recent issues.
“There isn’t a team that we can’t beat in the region. We’re confident with that,” Beatty said. “But once again, we have to be able to utilize our bench, our roster, but, especially, Bailey.”