SPRINGFIELD TWP.  Strength at the top of the lineup has carried the Springfield Spartans to a winning start this season.

In winning seven of their first nine games, the Spartans have relied on a large and productive group at the plate, each of whom has brought something different to the table.

Erika Johnson leads the team with a .542 average and has scored 16 runs while driving in eight, with teammates Tiffany Lance (.462, 16 RBI) and Saira Craft (.462, 10 SB, 10 RBI, 12 runs) close behind. Craft and Bailey Hall (.448 average, 7 SB) have teamed up to form an imposing duo on the base paths, stealing bases and using their speed to amp up the Springfield offense.

“Our biggest strength early in the year has been the top part of lineup creating scoring opportunities by being aggressive at the plate and on the bases,” head coach Charlie Schrader said. “We have found different ways to score runs from relying on big hits, stealing bases or playing small ball when needed.”

One of the best aspects of the strong start is the Spartans’ 6-1 mark in Portage Trail Conference play. That mark has them in the thick of the PTC Metro race and with the league schedule past its midway point, each game takes on added importance.

The Spartans’ fate the rest of the way will hinge largely on how Hall and rotation mates Madison Miller (3-1, 4.10 ERA, 20 strikeouts) and Maddie Looney (1-0, 1.80 ERA) fare in the circle. Miller and Looney have been solid filling in when Hall takes a day off and the trio have done damage at the place as well, with Miller and Looney combining for 20 RBI and 17 runs scored at the plate.

According to Schrader, the continued improvement of the defense has provided solid backing for the pitching staff and with the exception of a few innings when fielding errors have thrown a wrench into the works, Springfield has been consistent in the field.

“Our defense has been much improved except for a few innings in a couple of games from the past year,” Schrader said. “Our pitchers have done a nice job of hitting their spots and not walking people. Defensively we tend to find an inning in a game where we just break down and it becomes a snowball effect.  We are working really hard to limit damage when this happens and we have to improve if we want to achieve our goals.”

The one area where progress has been largely slowed is the bottom of the lineup, which had some lean games at the beginning of the year, but has shown signs of coming together in the past few games. Competing at the varsity level can be a mentally demanding endeavor for younger players and with a lot of underclassmen counted on both in the lineup and off the bench, Springfield is living with the growing pains and trying to keep its winning ways going.

The positive outgrowth of that reality, Schrader noted, is that the younger players are “constantly asking questions and doing their best to become better players on the mental side of the game.”

If those players can internalize the lessons they learn and use them to bolster their playing abilities, what has already been a good season could become a special one for the Spartans. 

Winning games while also going through the growing process isn’t a simple task, but being able to blend the two is often a hallmark of the most successful programs in the area. Springfield’s ongoing assignment is to incorporate new faces to its existing contributors and keep rolling toward a potential PTC Metro title and long postseason run.

“I know it sounds very clichéd, but every win is a big win for us... we have a good mix of senior leaders and young kids that love playing the game,” Schrader said. “While we have hit some rough patches and growing pains in a few games, one thing that hasn't changed is their effort and character. I, as well as the other coaches, love coaching this team and we look forward to stepping on the field everyday and growing as a team.” 

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