Bunnies gunning for sixth consecutive regional championship

FISHER — “Greatness” and “Fisher softball” have been two synonymous terms over the past five seasons.

And it’s not a stretch to label the Bunnies’ program as an area powerhouse. That’s a fair label after a five-year stretch in which they have won more than 100 games, taken home five consecutive regional championships and a fourth-place state medal (in 2016).

Now they’re back for a run at a sixth straight regional plaque, but maybe it’s time to seek even higher standards.

“We’ve talked about a sixth straight regional, and hopefully that’s a stepping stone to bigger and better things,” Fisher coach Ken Ingold said. “I think it’s time to talk about going even farther than that, but you have to win a regional before you can win a sectional. The first thing we’re going to talk about is improving. One of our themes this year is ‘Rise Up’ and meet the challenges that come. I’d like to be one of the best teams in the Heart of Illinois Conference this year, which is going to be a very difficult conference. There are a lot of good teams in our conference.”

“Rise Up.” That’s the Bunnies’ motto this season, and Ingold believes that will carry his team through 2018.

“I think just for this season, if we rise above and rise up and meet our challenges and continue to move on, then I think it’s a successful season,” Ingold said. “I’m not going to put a record on it because you don’t know how many games you’re going to play — you don’t know how many are going to get rained out. I just think if we rise up and take on all challenges, I think we’re going to be successful.”

‘Bad taste in our mouths’

One of the biggest motivators for the Bunnies this season is to make sure it doesn’t end last like last year did.

Fisher held an early 2-0 lead on Dwight in a sectional semifinal game before the Trojans tied it at 2. After a 15-minute delay for a tornado warning, Dwight returned to take a 5-2 lead on a three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning and held on for a two-run win.

“They haven’t referred to it specifically, but I think it left a bad taste in our mouth after a good season, because we felt like we had a handle on that game,” Ingold said. “Then we had the alleged tornado delay that really didn’t turn out to be anything, and I think that kind of messed with our momentum. No excuses, but we weren’t as sharp when we came back out after that delay. We haven’t really talked about that, but the motivating factor first is probably to be one of the top teams in the ever-tough HOIC and then let’s win our sixth consecutive regional; then go from there.”

Flexibility

When Ingold set lineups and defenses last season, he felt a bit stuck. With only 11 players on the roster, he did not have much maneuverability.

With 16 girls on this year’s squad who can all play and have softball experience, he said he will “be able to get creative with some pinch-running, pinch-hitting and making some defensive changes if that helps us. I’m looking forward to having some flexibility this year.”

Returning to bolster the lineup and defensive alignment are key players Becca Clanton at catcher and Sydney Eichelberger as the team’s ace. Surrounding them are returning starters Karissa Fredrickson at third base (and maybe some outfield), Sidney Hood at shortstop, Kylie Terven at second base, Bailey Hadden in center field and Taylor May and Shelbee Owens at the corner outfield positions (though Ingold said both May and Owens will probably see time at first base). Also, newcomers to the varsity squad Leah McCoy, Lauren Summers and Allie Jacobs have impressed the head coach.

With lone senior Brittney Enos, the team’s emotional leader on and off the field, graduated and playing at Monmouth College, there will need to be new faces and voices step up and be more vocal.

“Your catcher needs to be a leader out there on the field, especially from the defensive end. I would assume that Becca is going to bat in the middle of the order, third or fourth probably. She’s going to take on a leadership role, and I’ve been really impressed,” Ingold said. “Kylie Terven is kind of our leader amongst infielders. Bailey Hadden is our leader amongst the outfielders. Sydney Eichelberger, even though she’s a junior, is a really good mound leader. Instead of getting (leadership) just from one girl that I thought we had last year, I think we’re going to get leadership from several different girls.”

Freedom to play

In Eichelberger’s first season as the No. 1 starter, she shined and earned all-area honors by The News-Gazette. The junior pitcher and Clanton formed a nice chemistry on the field, and with more time to harness it this season, could see even better individual seasons in 2018 — which may include all-area and all-conference recognition once again.

And Ingold allows the pair some freedom on the field, which has enhanced their play further.

“Coach (Kevin) Terven and I are not calling pitches. I have full confidence in Becca and Sydney to get together on what pitch needs to be thrown in each situation because they’ve both played a lot of softball and have been together for a couple years,” Ingold said. “I think they’re probably more capable of doing it than I am, so I have confidence in that. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll make suggestions here and there, and we’ll talk about it in the dugout. But I have full confidence in Sydney and Becca to get together. I expect to have a really strong season from my pitchers and catchers.”

Building legacies

Despite being at the helm of the Fisher program for all of the successes of the past five years, Ingold still does not want to take credit.

“That’s not coaching. That’s girls that look at the program and make a four-year commitment to the program,” Ingold said. “That’s what that’s all about. That’s pretty impressive.”

But what Ingold relishes the most about his program is not what is seen on the field — it goes much further.

“I don’t think you can really tell the success of a season until you look at what your girls are doing when they’re 25, 30, 35, 40 years old,” Ingold said. “I think that’s the major part of what a successful program is. I look back at some of my former athletes now who graduated from college and have jobs, and I think that’s what the real measuring factor (of success) is.”

The Bunnies began the season Monday with a trip to Urbana (the result was not available at press time) before home games against St. Thomas More on Wednesday, Watseka on Friday and Clinton on Saturday.

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Softball, Sports

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