Kathy Bernal has won more than 460 games in her 22 years as the head softball coach at Southwestern Illinois College and her Blue Storm teams have advanced to the NJCAA Region 24 Final 4 five times.
Bernal has coached two All-Americans as well as numerous all-Region 24 and all-Great Rivers Athletic Conference players. But after back-to-back dismal seasons in 2015 and 2016, Bernal is as optimistic as she’s been in years heading into the 2017 season.
The reason? Quality pitching and lots of it.
“It seems like the last few years we’ve started the season optimistic and by the end of the year, we’re asking what happened?” Bernal said last week. “I think a lot of it has to do with us being inconsistent. But from what I see so far and the fact we have such a potentially strong pitching staff, I’m as optimistic as I’ve been in a few years going into a season. I think we could have a very good season.”
The Blue Storm season begins Tuesday when it travels to Godfrey to take on Lewis and Clark Junior College beginning at 2 p.m. SWIC opens the home portion of its season when it plays host to Frontier College beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday.
SWIC begins its season with it smallest roster in years. Because of graduation and academics, the Blue Storm lost several starters from the team of a year ago, but the current freshman class is as strong as its been in years, especially in the pitching staff.
The lone returning pitcher is sophomore TJ Smith (Civic Memorial). The staff this season is bolstered by freshmen Josie Ledbetter (Freeburg), Aspen Lohman (Wesclin), Abby Ratermann (Breese Central) and Tori Lonsdale (Belleville East).
“Ability wise and for the number of quality arms that we have on the staff, this is as deep as a staff as we’ve had in a very long time,” Bernal said. “They have all had success at the high school level, they all have good command and they all throw strikes.
“If we play the the games we are scheduled to play, they’ll get plenty of opportunities to pitch. And with the number of players on our roster, our pitchers will also have to play in the field as well.”
One of only two sophomores on the roster, Cindy Scroggins (Roxana) will be counted on to lead the Blue Storm’s offense. A quality defensive first basmen, Scroggins has the ability to hit for both power and average.
Rounding out the Blue Storm infield are Lauren Westerfield (Belleville East) and Katy Polacek (Waterloo) at second base, Ratermann will play shortstop when she isn’t pitching and Mo Rodriguez (Wesclin) will play third base. Freshman Kim Hoffmann (Freeburg) will also play first base.
Andrea Russell (Edwardsville), Polacek and Brea Elms (Red Bud) are all catchers who will play other positions, while Tori Dall (Central) and Ledbetter are just two of players who will see time in the Blue Storm outfield.