HERRIN — The Marion Wildcats softball team is in a league of its own — at least here in Southern Illinois.
The Wildcats improved to 6-0 this spring following a 19-1 shellacking of the Herrin Tigers Friday afternoon at Herrin City Park. Marion scored early and often in the non-conference game shortened to four innings due to the 15-run rule.
In fact, the Wildcats went through the entire batting order each of the first three innings, scoring five, four and five runs off Herrin pitchers Cadence Tessone and Presli Karnes. Marion sent eight more batters to the plate in the top of the fourth inning when scoring five additional runs. There were three home runs hit by the visitors, including a grand slam off the bat of Amelia Browning. Marion has banged 19 over the fence in only six games.
"We're taking each game day-by-day," said Wildcats head coach Joy Neal ever so humbly. "These girls worked hard in the off season. They are finally getting a chance to show their work. I give a lot of credit to our seniors. They have kept everyone focused. And it helps that the girls get along so well with one another. They're friends. It's all about putting the team first with this bunch."
Marion opened with a five-run first inning. Heaven Lawrence walked, stole second and third, and scored on an infield groundout off the bat of Megan Beach. Karris Rhine followed with a solo home run. Abby Sherrard walked. Tori Evans singled. Jerzy Bittle doubled home a run. Presley Barnett followed with a sacrifice fly. An error resulted in one extra run.
Herrin answered with a solo home run off the bat of freshman shortstop Jersey Summers. It would be the only hit the Tigers would muster against winning pitcher Cam Harre, who struck out eight of the 15 batters she faced.
Marion went back to work in the second inning, plating four runs. Beach doubled. Rhine reached on an error. Sherrard singled. Evans walked. Bittle singled. Barnett singled in a run and Browning's fielder's choice grounder drove in another.
In the third, five runs crossed the plate. The highlight was a two-run single off the bat of Evans.
Finally in the fourth, Rhine stroked her second solo shot of the game and Browning put a cherry on the sundae with a grand slam homer a few minutes later.
Rhine, a junior centerfielder for Marion, said the team has simply been on fire at the plate.
"We've been very patient at the plate and hitting the heck out of the ball," she said. "We've put in a lot of work. Everybody 1 through 9 has been hitting really well."
Rhine said what makes this squad so good is that the players are never satisfied with the success.
"Our goal? State. We want to win it. We're going to be there. You watch us. All those people who are doubting us right now, and doubted us in preseason...they'll see."
Herrin coach Steph Allen said Marion is the real deal.
"They're a phenomenal softball team. They hit, they field. Every hitter came to the plate to play today," she said. "As for us...we're going to get better. This was our first game today. We just got our volleyball girls back. We're going to improve. I look for us to get a whole lot better. I thought our defense overall was pretty good today. You can't defend against a home run."
Marion returns to the diamond Wednesday when the Wildcats welcome conference rival. Belleville Althoff, for a doubleheader. Herrin plays at home today (Saturday) against Du Quoin. Game time is set for 11 a.m.