In 14 years as head softball coach at Winona (Minn.) State University, Greg Jones has helped build the program on two key pillars.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on pitching and defense,” Jones said.
This spring, those two aspects of the Warriors’ game are present in the team’s 17-3 start. Winona is eighth in the country with a 1.27 ERA and 33rd in fielding percentage (.969).
Thanks to Marengo graduate Reed Karsten, the team’s sophomore right fielder, a potent offense has been front and center as well.
“We’re just really clicking this year,” Karsten said of the offense, which ranks sixth in NCAA Division II with 8.13 runs a game.
The offensive pop has helped Winona get noticed nationally. This week, the Warriors made their season debut in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll at No. 20.
“We’ve got some kids who can really handle the bat at the top and bottom of the lineup, and we have some thumpers in the middle,” Jones said.
Karsten, who bats second, started every game as a freshman and earned a reputation as a strong slap hitter, batting .375 with 23 RBIs last spring.
While working on her game over the summer, “I swung away a lot more,” Karsten said.
The results have been impressive – a team-leading .426 average and 29 hits, to go along with seven extra-base hits.
“She’s always been a good slap hitter,” Jones said. “Now she’s showing that she can hit the ball in the gaps for a double. Her extra-base hit potential is big.”
Through 20 games, Karsten has 18 RBIs, only five less than all of last season. She also has produced two doubles and five triples, a total that ranks second in the nation.
“I had to adjust my approach at the plate,” Karsten said. “The pitchers you see are a lot better [in college].”
With Karsten in the lineup last season, Winona finished 10th in the final national poll and advanced to an NCAA Super Regional, where it lost to eventual national champion Central Oklahoma.
The team’s focus this season is squarely on returning to the national stage.
“One hundred percent,” Karsten said. “That was really awesome to get that far. It was very emotional.”
Freeman takes 10th: Cary-Grove grad Josh Freeman, a sophomore shot putter at Southern Illinois, finished 10th last weekend at the NCAA Division I indoor track and field nationals in Albuquerque, N.M.
In his first trip to nationals, Freeman threw 62 feet, 0¼ inch on his final throw of the competition.
Earlier this season, Freeman set the SIU indoor record in the event at 63-9.
Texas sophomore Ryan Crouser won the event in Albuquerque by almost 4 feet over his closest competitor with a throw of 69-7.
Pole vault standout: Minnesota senior Zach Siegmeier finished 13th in the pole vault last weekend at the D-I indoor nationals.
Siegmeier, a Crystal Lake Central grad, cleared 17-4 ½ at nationals.
Earlier in the month, Siegmeier won the Big Ten Conference indoor pole vault championship in Geneva, Ohio, with a vault of 17-3. Siegmeier, the conference outdoor champion last season, was the first Minnesota pole vaulter to win an indoor title since 2010.
Last month, Siegmeier set a meet record at Minnesota’s Snowshoe Open with a vault of 17-10 1/2.
Success in Penn’s ‘pen: Prairie Ridge grad Mike Reitcheck has produced a 1.80 ERA in four relief appearances for D-I University of Pennsylvania’s baseball team.
A freshman left-handed pitcher, Reitcheck has five strikeouts in five innings this season for Penn (2-9). Opposing hitters are batting .188 against Reitcheck, who earned his first career save March 11 in a 4-1 win against Delaware State. In the game, Reitcheck allowed one hit and struck out three over two innings.
Augie at nationals: Richmond-Burton’s Josh Eisenberg, a senior track and field athlete at D-III Augustana College in Rock Island, finished 12th in the heptathlon this month at the NCAA indoor nationals in Lincoln, Neb.
Eisenberg compiled 4,808 points in the event at nationals. During the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin meet last month, he set school and conference records with a 4,908 total while winning the event.
• 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 on Twitter @BarryOnCampus.