When Darin Monroe puts his lineup together, he looks for something special from the middle of his batting order.
“We look for a little splash,” said Monroe, the softball coach at Rock Valley College, a National Junior College Athletic Association school in Rockford.
What cleanup hitter Kara Ekx has provided this season for the Golden Eagles is far from a splash. It’s more like a tidal wave.
A freshman from McHenry West, Ekx leads the nation in home runs this season with 12 and ranks second in RBIs (74) and fourth in slugging percentage (1.017) for RVC (28-10).
“She’s definitely given us that splash,” Monroe said. “Kara has been our most consistent player. Other girls in our lineup have times when they’re hot and times when they’re cold. They go through their slumps.”
Ekx, who plays third base, has earned NJCAA Division III national player of the week honors twice this season while helping RVC reach No. 5 in this week’s national rankings.
Her success at the plate, which includes a team-best .542 batting average, is far from her own doing.
“I think that has a lot to do with the rest of my teammates,” Ekx said. “They’re all getting on base. Then when it’s my turn, they all come in (to score).”
Rock Valley has scored the third-most runs in the country (355) while hitting the second-most home runs (25) and batting .402 as a team, which is No. 9 nationally.
“Our one through nine hitters are solid,” Monroe said. “We’ve got a lot of depth. And we have three pitchers who are all different.”
When the Golden Eagles play this weekend in the Region IV Tournament in Madison, Wis., a trip to the NJCAA national tournament in Rochester, Minn., will be on the line.
Talk of winning a national championship is nothing new to Rock Valley’s players.
“Coach first brought that up to us in the fall,” Ekx said. “I think it has made us feel really confident in ourselves.”
“National championship is not a phrase you throw around if you don’t believe it,” Monroe said.
The Golden Eagles, who are the top seed in this weekend’s tournament, are certain to face off against No. 2 seed College of DuPage, which is ranked No. 4 nationally.
In a doubleheader sweep of COD on April 22, Rock Valley got a 3-for-8 performance from Ekx with a pair of RBIs and three runs.
“She’s not the kind of kid to say, ‘Look what I did,’” Monroe said. “She says, ‘Look what WE did.’ She’s just the type of player we look for.”
Kittle paces Anderson: Max Kittle (Dundee-Crown) won a pair of individual titles last weekend at the Heartland Collegiate Athletics Conference men’s outdoor track and field championships in North Manchester, Ind.
Kittle, a sophomore at D-III Anderson (Ind.) University, won the 110- and 400-meter hurdles events in 14.99 seconds and 53.44, respectively. His 400 hurdle time ranks fifth in school history and 10th in the nation this season.
Kittle also anchored Anderson’s 1,600 relay team, which placed fourth.
St. Norbert standout: Prairie Ridge grad Chad Ljunggren is batting .311 this season with 23 RBIs for D-III St. Norbert College’s baseball team.
Ljunggren, a junior infielder, has started every game this season for the Green Knights (22-10) while helping the team clinch its 11th trip to the Midwest Conference postseason tournament in the past 12 years. St. Norbert has won 10 of its past 14 games.
Ljunggren ranks second on the team with 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts this season.
North Park honor: Cary-Grove grad Kyle Williams, a senior outfielder at D-III North Park University, was recognized Tuesday as the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Baseball Hitter of the Week.
Williams earned the award, his second of the season, after batting .400 over the previous week, which included two wins in a three-game series against CCIW rival Elmhurst. Williams went 8-for-13 against Elmhurst to improve his season average to .378.
Williams has started 35 times for the Vikings (19-17) and leads the team with five triples.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.