After struggling to a 9-19 record last season, Oak Harbor second-year manager Chris Rawski says his team would have to commit itself to getting better during the offseason in the hope that things would turn around.
So far, so good.
The Rockets, which started 14-2 overall and 4-1 in the Sandusky Bay Conference, have seen dedication pay off. During the offseason, a number of players, specifically those not competing in a fall or winter sport, worked on their game in an effort to be better prepared for the 2013 campaign.
It doesn't hurt that Rawski, who was previously the junior varsity coach at Sylvania Southview and an assistant with Genoa for eight seasons, brings with him a winning pedigree. Two years ago, the Cougars advanced to the Division I regional final and the Comets had a great run under Rawski and former manager Tom Kontak, advancing to the D-III state semifinal in 2006 behind the play of Shana Szypka and Abbey Kontak. Szypka went on to a stellar career at the University of Toledo.
“It has been really nice (to get off to a good start),” Rawski said. “ We have hit the ball very well, played good, sound defense and pitched well. As a team, we try to put the ball in play with two strikes and make the routine play on defense. (But) the key is (our focus). We are very dangerous when we have confidence in ourselves.”
It starts in the pitcher's circle. The team's senior ace, Sam Durivage, is 10-2 and had a 2.50 ERA in her first eight starts. She is being looked at by a couple of NCAA D-I colleges. For her efforts, she was featured on Channel 13 ABC's Athlete of the Week segment earlier this month. (www.13abc.com/category/218298/athlete-of-the-week)
“Sam always gives us a chance to win,” Rawski said. “She stays ahead of hitters and doesn't walk anyone — that's huge for us.”
Catcher Maggie Tyburski, Durivage's best friend, has been instrumental in helping the pitcher become successful. Rawski says the rapport the two possess has been key in helping Durivage to feel confident and comfortable in the circle. Besides calling the game with the pitchers, Tyburski, a senior, is batting .406 with two doubles, a home run, nine RBIs and 12 runs.
Durivage has also done her share of damage at the plate, hitting .513 with five doubles and 22 runs, both second on the team. Durivage proved her importance to the team when she pitched an 8-inning shutout in a 1-0 victory over SBC foe Edison last Friday, and she even had the game-winning RBI, scoring Brandy Lachotzki. Durivage and Rebecca Floria also had important sacrifices in the game.
The Rockets suffered their first SBC loss Monday, 10-2, to Huron, even though Oak Harbor was outhit just 10 to 6. But three errors spelled the difference. The Rockets came back the next night to down Sandusky St. Mary 4-1 behind the 2-hit complete game pitching effort by Durivage.
Shortstop Rebecca Florio leads the Rockets in hitting with a .585 average and has four doubles, three triples and three home runs. The Rockets are also getting production from first baseman Theresa Stokes, who is hitting .486 with 23 RBIs, and center fielder Sydney Street, who is batting .552 with 20 runs.
But it's the No. 3 hitter, third baseman Justine Webb, who's been the most productive, hitting .471 with three home runs, 23 RBIs and 23 runs, all tops on the squad. And sophomore right fielder Allison Wolf, who was an honorable mention all-district selection last year, is hitting .405 with 17 RBIs and 14 runs. These numbers might be somewhat inflated considering that Oak Harbor is just getting into the heart of their conference slate, but the Rockets are out to prove otherwise.
“Rebecca, Justine, Theresa and Sam have anchored our lineup,” Rawski said, “but it's been a complete team effort. Even those kids coming off the bench have been huge in spots.”
The batting order is comprised of Florio, Durivage, Webb, Stokes, Wolf, Street, Tyburski, designated hitter Kimmi Wahlers and left fielder Brandy Lochotzki. Erin Bryant regularly plays second base and outfielders Brooke Meyer and Morgan Miller, pitcher Brooke Shanteau, and utility players Kelsey Bodnar and Taylor Weborg also contribute. Shanteau has pitched three times this season, going 4-0 with a 0.42 ERA in 16.2 innings of work.
Rawski believes it will be the team's mental toughness and level of focus that determines its fate in the SBC.
“(The girls) need to have confidence that they can win each game and go one at a time,” he said. “Every team in the league is good. We have to stay focused and do the little things.”