If Abby Marlow is the engine that powers the New Athens Yellow Jackets, then senior classmate Alina Lance sets the spark.
The free-swinging shortstop is second on the team with a .483 average and 23 runs scored while leading the way with 29 hits and 11 stolen bases. Lance has struck out just twice in 60 at-bats, while walking three times.
And she has no problem getting dirty.
"Probably one of my favorite things is just diving. Even in practice, I'm diving," she said. "I also really like being the lead-off hitter because I can set the example for how the rest of the offense is going to be behind me."
New Athens is coming of a surprising 6-5 loss at Red Bud Monday, but remains the top Class 1A team in the area at 14-2. Marlow, who leads the team in batting (.568) and slugging (1.136, 5 HR, 8 2B, 21 RBIs), continues to dominate inside the pitcher's circle (13-1, 0.92 ERA).
But the offense starts at the top with Lance, who committed to two years at Parkland Community College in Champaign.
She's followed by a stout lineup that includes Hanna Daab (.321, 4 SACs, 11 RBIs), Sophie Cooper (.412, .500 OBP, 18 RBIs), Jenna Alfeldt (.353, 14 2B, 15 RBI), Casey Wilderman (.356, 16 RBIs), Jordan Drake (.280, 13 RBIs) and others.
"Everyone is so worried about me and Abby that you kind of miss over Hannah betting second," said Lance. "Even if she makes an out, she's usually moving me over to second or third. Then after Abby, we have Sophie and Jenna and the rest. I don't feel like we have a week spot right now.
"I'm excited for the post season."
Lance, a self-professed "tomboy," hopes two years at Parkland turn into two more years at an accredited four-year university where she also can play softball. He eventual goal, however, is a career in the United States Marines.
"Our family isn't into the military, but it's just something that interests me," Lance said. "It's the challenge of it. I want to be pushed."
Grace Baalman, a 6-foot-2 junior pitcher at Hardin Calhoun, struck out 10 batters in a 3-0 win over Edwardsville Monday.
The loss was Edwardsville's first after winning 12 in a row and it was the first time the Tigers have been shut out since June 13, 2009 against Willmette Loyola Academy.
Edwardsville (15-3) last lost to Mater Dei on March 26 and has since made a clean sweep of the Southwestern Conference. Its only other loss was to Gillespie (20-3).
Baalman, who has committed to Kentucky, also slugged her 11th home run of the season and collected RBI No. 42, both of which are tops in the St. Louis region this season. Calhoun improved to 25-2. The Warriors also suffered a loss to Gillespie.
The races are tight at the top of the Cahokia Conference's two divisions. New Athens still holds first place in the Kaskaskia division, despite the upset loss at Red Bud.
Dupo (9-3 overall) has yet to lose a game in Kaskaskia Division play. The Tigers took an advantage over New Athens (14-2) witha 5-2 win back on April 5. The teams were scheduled for a rematch last week but were rained out. That game will be made up May 11 at New Athens.
The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, will have to make up an upset loss at Red Bud to have a chance to tie Dupo for the conference lead.
In the Mississippi Division, Columbia, Central and Freeburg continue to stack up at the top.
Central (15-6) and Freeburg (15-4) were rained out Tuesday, but the Midgets still have games remaining against Columbia (13-3) and Red Bud (11-8). Columbia also faces Red Bud.
Mississippi Valley knockout
Monday’s game between Jerseyville and Highland could have been billed as a heavyweight showdown between the top two contenders from the Mississippi Valley Conference.
Jerseyville entered having won 12 of 13 games, including six in a row. The Panthers also were still unbeaten in three games against conference opponents. Highland entered on a roll of its own with eight wins in nine games, but a game behind Jerseyville on the loss side.
But it was the who scored the knockout by taking advantage of Jerseyville errors in a 13-3 short game win.
Highland now has won five in a row and nine of 10 to hike its overall record to 11-3. The Bulldogs also have won their last three MVC game to put themselves as a leading candidate in the chase for the conference championship at 3-1, which is tied atop the standings with Jerseyville (15-3 overall).