The Muscatine softball team is playing its best at the right time. The Muskies (30-7) are riding a 14-game winning streak heading into the postseason and have reached 30 wins for the first time since the 2014 season.
Their confidence is at an all-time high. The same can be said for Kaylynn Salyars, as her confidence is “a lot higher” than earlier in the season.
“It’s just (about) knowing that I can do it because I’ve hit off these better pitchers all year,” Salyars said.
The sophomore has been a catalyst all season. She’s second on the team with six home runs while hitting .453 with a .761 slugging percentage and just nine strikeouts. She’s also second on the team and in the Mississippi Athletic Conference with 47 RBI, trailing only Kaylie Reynolds and her 49 RBIs.
Salyars has taken it to another level during the 14-game winning streak in which she’s hitting .555 with 10 doubles and 23 RBI.
“She’s just an exceptional athlete,” coach Steve Hopkins said. “She’s seeing the ball really well and it doesn’t surprise me what she’s doing.
“She’s just an outstanding softball player.”
Salyars, who is just a sophomore, has performed in the biggest games, too. Class 5A No. 7 Muscatine has five wins over ranked teams in the last week. In those games, Salyars hit .588 with four doubles and 10 RBIs.
“She’s a competitor,” Hopkins said. “It seems like every time you turn around Kaylynn is right there coming up with a big hit at the right time. Big-time players show up for big-time games and she’s been doing that.”
One noticeable change in the last 14 games has been home runs, as all six of Salyars’ bombs came in the first 21 games. However, nobody is disappointed with her home run drought, because she’s improved her approach at the plate and raised her batting average considerably.
“My main goal is to get on base,” Salyars said. “If I have players on, my goal is to move them up or even score them. Just making contact is what I’m looking for right now.
“I like to gauge it and see what other players are getting (from the pitcher). If they’re getting outside that’s what I look for; just change to the situation.”
Salyars' recent approach lines up with Hopkins philosophy. He encourages his entire team to focus on base hits, not home runs.
“We’re not trying to hit home runs,” Hopkins said. “We’re trying to square up on the ball and hit line drives. If it goes over it goes over. (Kaylynn) has done a great job of doing that. A home run is a low percentage outcome. For us, I’ll take the doubles and hard singles any day.”
The Muskie standout still has plenty of room to develop and expand her game, especially on the defensive end. Salyars has a .968 fielding percentage from second base, and Hopkins says she’s athletic enough to learn either shortstop or third base next season.
This season, she’s formed the best 1-2 punch in the MAC along with Reynolds, who has seven home runs and 49 RBIs.
“When Kaylynn and Kaylie drive the ball like that the kids behind them feed off their success,” Hopkins said. “They’ve come up big for us in a lot of instances. Hopefully, we can continue to build off that and carry this momentum into the postseason.”
However, Hopkins knows none of the Muskies’ regular season success matters now that the “one-game season” is upon them. Muscatine will play host to Cedar Rapids Jefferson (19-20) Saturday at 7 p.m. at Kent Stein Park.
The J-Hawks have some big bats, including one of the state’s leading home run hitters in Lindsey Culver, who has 12 home runs and 60 RBIs. Still, the Muskies know if they do what they’ve been doing and fight on every pitch, they can beat anybody.
It doesn’t hurt having Salyars to help lead the charge either.
“We all know and I know we can do it, no matter what,” Salyars said. “We can beat any team if we have the right mindset.”