East softball off to best start in years

Once again, Columbus East softball is trending in the right direction, and this time, the Olympians hope it’s for good.

East won only one game in 2011, then went 2-19, 4-18 and 6-16 the next three years. But then the Olympians went in reverse, going 5-17 in 2015 and 3-18 last year.

This year, things have turned around. East is off to its best start this decade with a 8-4 record going into today’s home game with crosstown rival Columbus North.

“We’re putting in a lot more effort this year,” sophomore pitcher-first baseman Brooke Valles said. “People want to be here. Even though our team is really young, they’re really mature for their age. That’s why we communicate so well.”

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Rusty Brummett, who is in his third year coaching the Olympians, said a piece of the puzzle is getting athletes to buy into the program and what he’s wanting to get done. Girls are playing travel softball and are in the weightlifting class at school. Several of the players are taking hitting lessons or pitching lessons outside of practice and in the offseason.

Brummett also pointed to the leadership from his two seniors, Kaitlin Wagner and Jackie McCorkle, of not accepting defeat as the norm anymore.

“We go into a ballgame wanting to win, and it should be a surprise when we don’t,” Brummett said. “In the past, I’m not sure that was our mental approach when we went into a ballgame. Last year, there were several ballgames where we were in the lead or in the game late, and we couldn’t hold the lead. It’s that confidence, that never-die. We’re going to show up and play until the last out in the seventh inning.”

That was the case early in the season against Edinburgh. East trailed 3-1 going to the bottom of the seventh, but used two-run homers from freshman catcher Becca Carter and junior third baseman Kendra Pastrick to pull out a 5-3 win.

Saturday, the Olympians scored three times in the bottom of the seventh to come out with a 6-5 win against Mt. Vernon and salvage a doubleheader split.

East’s first three losses this season came against Bloomington North, Brown County and Floyd Central. All are quality programs, but are teams that Brummett says the Olympians have to be able to beat.

“At this point, we’re winning ballgames that we should win,” Brummett said. “The next level is winning ballgames that people think you shouldn’t.”

Another key for the Olympians has been the addition of several freshman. Five have been regular starters.

Wagner said those freshmen have meshed well with the upperclassmen.

“I think the key is that we’re playing as a team and coming together and making key plays and key outs and key hits that we need,” Wagner said. “We have a lot of freshmen, but everyone is working together.”

East has had a balanced offensive attack, with three freshmen hitting above .400 and six players at better than .300. Freshman right fielder Carissa Bombardiere leads the way at .424, followed by freshman left fielder Mady Foster (.407), Carter (.400), freshman shortstop Haley Engelking (.385), junior second baseman Cassie Claycamp (.375), and freshman pitcher-first baseman Jordan Johnston (.308). Junior infielder Kamryn Cantu, is hitting .294, and Pastrick leads the team with two homers and nine RBIs.

Johnston and Valles have split time in the pitching circle.

“Talent makes a coach look pretty good,” Brummett said. “We have a lot of talent in our program, not only at the varsity level, but our junior varsity is competing more than it has in the past. At some point, you hope that starting freshmen is not the norm.”

Brummett said while it’s nice to have those victories and to celebrate those victories, the end goal is to do well in the Hoosier Hills Conference and in the tournament. East hasn’t won a sectional since winning three in a row from 2002-04.

Bloomington North, which beat the Olympians 12-0 on March 30, is this year’s sectional host. East is confident it will be a better team in that sectional than it was on that day.

“I think if we don’t get into a slump, and we keep working as hard as we have, we we’ll be where we want to be and hopefully get the sectional win that we’re striving for,” Wagner said. “We have to keep improving and working hard and playing to our potential, and we’re going to strive to be there.”

If you go

What: Columbus North at Columbus East softball

When: 5 p.m. today

Where: Columbus East High School

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.