Belleville East's Alyssa Krausz on her improvement at the plate
Alyssa Krausz was due up fifth in the bottom of third inning for the Belleville East Lancers, but she was already strapped with both helmet and batting gloves before the frame's first pitch was even thrown.
You'd get the idea the junior shortstop likes to hit a softball.
"Actually, I like defense better than hitting," said Krausz after driving home four runs in a 5-0 Lancers win over O'Fallon on Tuesday. "I just feel like it's more action going on and more about helping the team than yourself."
Krausz was far more diplomatic Tuesday than she's been to opposing pitching through 10 games this season.
She went into Tuesday's Southwestern Conference game having hit safely in 20 of her 31 at-bats so far this spring. That .645 average was best in the metro-east for players with at least 20 plate appearances.
Then, against the Panthers, Krausz was 2 for 2 with a two-run, no-doubt homer in the first inning, an RBI single in the third and a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
"I don't think too much," Krausz said. "My idea is to put the ball in play and hope it falls for a hit. We want to keep the pressure on them because that takes the pressure off us."
Krausz came out of left field both literally and figuratively in 2017, when she batted .357 with eight doubles, six home runs and 26 RBIs. The Lancers finished 30-7 with both regional and sectional championships, and the surprise sophomore earned a move from the outfield to everyday shortstop.
Coach Natalie Peters said coaches were aware of Krausz's potential last season but acknowledged that her contributions would have been hard to predict.
"I wouldn't necessarily call her a surprise, but any time a sophomore steps up to the varsity level, especially the way she did last year, it's really neat to watch it happen," said Peters. "She was just very, very composed. She plays a mature type of game, so we thought she could be the kind of player who would step up to a role."
Krausz has stepped up her game up to yet another level. Her 19 RBIs through 10 games this season puts her on a pace for 57 through the regular season, which would break the school record teammate Alex Boze set last season.
With Kristina Bettis, Jackie Belzer and Boze ahead of her, Krausz will continue to get opportunities to generate runs.
She says participating in the Coastal Carolina University summer softball camp has made a difference. It introduced her to the Zepp swing-analyzing device that measures a hitter's swing angle and bat speed.
"I think what sets Krausz apart is that she's very, very coachable, and she just loves to play softball," Peter said. "You put that combination together with her goal to always keep getting better, and you get the inkling that she can be very special."
Two-thirds of the season remains ahead, and the 8-2 Lancers hope to continue improving with an everyday lineup that includes some notable changes from last year.
Bettis has moved to the top of the lineup, where a 2-for-4 performance Tuesday brought her average to .588. The senior scored two more runs to bring her team-high total to 17 and pitched the full seven innings, allowing just five O'Fallon base runners.
"We lost Jessica Belzer, who had led off with her for three years, so we knew that was going to be a tough spot to fill," Peters said. "Kristina has been leading off for us all year and has done it really well."
O'Fallon sophomore Hailey Juenger took the loss against East by allowing four earned runs on eight hits. She struck out three and hit one batter.
Two of the Panthers' five hits came from freshman Abigail Wilson, who had a pair of infield singles in the No. 9 spot of the O'Fallon order. Zoie Howard, Kelly Short and Ashley Schloer had the others.
The Panthers fell to 6-3 and play at Belleville West on Wednesday.