Altamont head coach John Niebrugge prefers man to machine.
The second-year coach throws to the Indians in hitting drills, instead of putting a pitching machine in his place because he said it better simulates actual arm motion and speed.
His manual mentality appears to be shaping the Indians' offense into a well-oiled machine, unloading a 57-3 run differential this postseason, during their run to today's Class 1A State semifinal game.
“The pitching they're seeing now is slower than what they're getting (from me) every day,” Niebrugge said. “And they're smoking me in practice.”
Niebrugge doesn't expect to routinely beat teams in the way the Indians won their last two games – a pair of wins by a combined score of 31-0, collecting a sectional and super-sectional title along the way.
But the Indians' hitters show better approaches at the plate, he said, swinging at pitches in the strike zone. Altamont compiled 30 hits in their last two games.
Second baseman Josie Phillips is at the head of an offense on a tear. Phillips has six hits, 10 RBIs and a home run in the last two games. Right fielder Nikki Tharp has four hits, three RBIs and a home run. Utility player Brooke Burns has five hits in her last five at-bats with six RBIs and a home run.
Phillips is one of five everyday starters boasting batting averages better than .400, including center fielder Madison Ohnesorge's .510 and pitcher Deidre Ledbetter's .485.
The hot batting order has almost exclusively stayed the same from day one, Niebrugge said, with Burns and Elizabeth Biggs often switching in and out of the lineup.
“It's pretty easy to write out the lineup,” Niebrugge said. “It's not something I'm going in there wondering what my best matchup is going to be with (the opponent's) pitcher.”
Sciota West Prairie's Kourtney Campbell will be the Indians' first test on the big stage. Campbell has pitched in all 35 of the Cyclones' games this season, compiling a 26-8 record in 225 1-3 innings.
Campbell has 200 strikeouts this season and a 1.62 ERA. Niebrugge said he expects her to throw in the high 50 miles per hour range, utilizing a rise ball as a strikeout pitch.
She'll face Altamont's ace, Deidre Ledbetter, who has a 24-3 record in 30 games this season. She's thrown in 169 2-3 innings, gathering 259 strikeouts and a 1.11 ERA. She hasn't given up a run in three games.
Unlike the Indians' batting order, only one of the Cyclones hitters is hitting better than .400. Jen Reedy has a .416 batting average with six doubles and 23 RBIs.
Five everyday starters hit better than .300, including Tabby Bilderback, who has a .374 average with a team-high four triples and three home runs. Hanna Runner is hitting .360 with 13 doubles.
“They have a lot of girls who swing hard,” Niebrugge said. “They're power hitters more or less. They just try to move people along but don't try to take extra bases.”
The Cyclones wont try to push the envelope by taking risks, Niebrugge said; instead, they'll look to string together base hits to score runs, putting extra pressure on the defense.
Ledbetter has eased some of the pressure from the pitching circle this posteason, striking out at least nine hitters in each game, including a postseason-high 13 strikeouts against Cumberland. She threw a no-hitter in the 15-0 win against Oblong for the sectional title.
Ledbetter and catcher Lauren White continue to gel as they call of the pitches themselves, allowing the coaches to sit back and watch even when they want to interrupt.
“Coach (John) Ledbetter and I sometimes want to know what's going on, but then again those two are so locked in that we trust them,” Niebrugge said. “They can see things that sometimes the coach can't see.”
White and Ledbetter are known to scout opponents during pregame warmups. Also, the pair tries to pick up notes about hitters in preparation for games.
The Indians will take the same mentality they've had all season into today's game — give the ball to Ledbetter on the mound and trust their strong lineup. Altamont and Sciota West Prairie will be the first game of the day at 10 a.m. at the Eastside Centre in Peoria.
“I'm very confident, but that's kind of the mentality we've had all season,” Niebrugge said. “We don't think we can get beat. We have an ace on the mound and a lineup that can hit. We have all the necessary tools to keep advancing.”
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or email@example.com.
Altamont head coach John Niebrugge prefers man to machine.
Flaming Hearts win St. Anthony Invitational
The Flaming Hearts of Effingham were the overall winners and also had the medalist. Effingham shot a team score of 312 to beat the host Bulldogs by nine shots. Hearts senior Jackson Wendling finished with a 72 to take medalist honors.
Teutopolis takes opener against St. Thomas More
Teutopolis took the course with a new coach and four players, but as coach Becky Probst said, it takes four to score.
And those four Lady Shoes took their first match of the year, topping Champaign St. Thomas More 216-227 in both teams' openers at Cardinal Golf Course in Effingham.
Time to tee off, golf season starts fall sports campaign today
The fall sports campaign kicks off in earnest Monday afternoon, with the first area varsity contests being held in Windsor and Effingham this afternoon.
The St. Anthony Invitational boys golf tournament will be held at Fox Prairie Golf Course at 1 p.m. in Windsor, while the Teutopolis Lady Shoes host St. Thomas More at Cardinal Golf Course at 4 p.m.
Flaming Hearts' flexibility a plus; Effingham prepping for upcoming soccer season
Three days into the practice season, Effingham soccer coach Aaron Witges sees a lot of flexibility.
It was something his squad had last year, with 10 seniors but young players forcing their way into the lineup as well.
Coming off a 10-8-3 season, some of those young players will find themselves in new positions for the Flaming Hearts this season.
Flaming Hearts set with new coach
The Effingham Flaming Hearts volleyball team will have a new but familiar face leading them on the sideline this season.
As a former player for the Hearts, coach Mindy McCollum-Boswell will look to lead her team to their first regional title since 2008.
Czachorski: Bears backups worrisome
This might sound shockingly similar to a number of columns I've written in the past, but it bears repeating (excusing a terrible pun).
The quarterback situation is worrisome.
Newton soccer kicks off, inaugural season starts Sept. 2
For the first time in the history of Newton High School, a soccer team will be a part of the fall sports season.
Pocrnich wins national ATV title
As people get older, their chance at a national championship diminishes, but Effingham’s Kevin Pocrnich was able to win one at 49 years old.
Pocrnich won the Class 16 Senior 40+ Mountain Dew ATV Motocross Championship and according to the league website, finished fourth in the Class 14 30+ Veteran division. He went out with a bang, winning the final race of the season in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee Saturday.
Teutopolis alum Thompson part of no-hitter
A pair of Effingham natives are making some noise up in the Northwest League.
Teutopolis alumnus Derek Thompson and Effingham alumnus Nick Gardewine, both members of the Spokane Indians in the Texas Rangers organization, earned some recognition over the past week.
Comets coming off stellar season
The Stew-Stras Comets finished in second-place at the state championship last season, a high-water mark for the program in recent years.
Coach Ronda Schlechte lost five players who played quality minutes from last year’s team, but she said she has a lot of freshmen that have the ability to help the team.
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- Flaming Hearts win St. Anthony Invitational