The Perry softball team finished the 2013 season 12-22 overall, their most wins since a 13-victory campaign in 2006.
The Jayettes were 3-13 in the Raccoon River Conference, but, considering the nine-team RRC sent three (and very nearly four) teams to the Class 4A state tourney and one team to the 3A tournament, Perry found themselves again facing the best competition in the state.
"It definitely toughens you up and I think we showed that the way we battled the number nine team in Norwalk (a 2-1 loss in the regional semifinals), which was a game we could have won," head coach Tina Kenney said. "We missed four or five games at two tourneys and we likely might have won all of them. Add in a couple during the season we should have won and I see a team that could have had 17 or 18 wins."
That said, Kenney knows the competition is not about to feel sorry for the Jayettes.
"We can keep talking about how tough our conference is or we can work at being one of the tough teams in the conference ourselves," she said. "We will have more than enough pieces coming back and young talent coming up that we can start looking at adding more wins to our total each year.
"Rising to the top is not going to happen all at once unless you have a real superstar, which we don’t have," Kenney continued. "It is going to take small steps each year. I think we are making those steps and we ought to be ready to take a bit of a bigger step."
The Jayettes got off at a rough start and were 2-12 after the first week of June but played 10-12 ball afterwards. The team was 5-9 at the PAC and 7-13 on the road.
One area in which Perry was dramatically improved was in overall defense, as the team saw errors drop for 91 in 39 games in 2012 to 54 in 34 games this summer. The result was a drastic decline in unearned runs allowed, a decline from 99 to 50 this year.
"That is still too many runs we are giving away but we are moving in the right direction," Kenney said. "You also have to take into account and probably close to half of those came in just three or four bad games and you see how much better it really was."
While the team issued 99 walks (up from 59), Jayette pitchers struck out more than twice as many opposing batters (142, up from 70) and saw the opposition batting average plummet from .339 to .285.
Eighth grader Emma Olejniczak (11-18) stepped into the circle for 179-1/3 of the 211-1/3 thrown this year. She struck out 127, walked 92 and had a 4.92 ERA. Senior Alexa Gilmore (1-4) saw limited duty in the ring, striking out 15 and walking six in 31-1/3 frames.
Despite playing in five fewer games the team hit 23 more doubles (56) and poked 12 home runs, down two from a school record 14 in 2012. Perry scored 148 runs on 255 hits after plating 153 on 255 hits the prior year, pointing to increased power hitting.
"We had six girls with at least five extra base hits and eight different girls hit home runs, so we are finding the (power) alleys now and are driving the ball much better," Kenney said. "Our average was up, too (to .294 from .274) and although we struck out more it was because we were aggressive and swinging the bats and I will take that any day over looking at strike three."
Four players hit over .300 for the season: Julie Diw (.370), Frankie Eklund (.367), Lindsey Kunch (.330) and Katie England (.303), with Diw hitting three home runs and Eklund and Kunch two each while England, Gilmore, Katelyn Whelchel, Rachel Kinney also cleared the fences. Victoria Hegstrom also hit a home run, an inside-the-park blast that bounded away from the defense off the center field fence in a game at the PAC.
Eklund had 40 hits and Diw and Kunch 37 apiece, with Whelchel adding 28 hits and England 27, with Diw and Kunch hitting one triple apiece. Diw and Eklund led the team with 13 doubles apiece while Kylie Brandt added nine two-base hits and Whelchel seven.
Diw had 20 RBIs, Eklund 19 and Kunch 17, with Kunch scoring 23 runs and England 21.
"We believed in each other a little bit more and became more mature as the season went on," Kenney said. "We were competitive in more of our games, even in some of the losses and played with more confidence.
"That is one area (confidence) that I would still like to see us improve on," she added. "I don’t want us worrying about what the other team is going to do, I want us to make them worry about what we will do to them."
Eklund and Gilmore played left and right field, respectively, while England took to the diamond at third base. All were seniors and will need to be replaced.
"We will miss those girls and what they brought to the team, but we will fill those spots and move on," Kenney said. "This team has a lot of potential and I am excited to see what we can do next year."