As an incoming freshman, Kirsten Stevens had plenty of adjustments to college, both as a student and an athlete at NCAA Division I Mercer University.
One of the biggest adjustments was being almost 850 miles away from home on Mercer’s campus in Macon, Ga.
“I was trying to be so independent, but it was hard without having your parents to help with everything,” said Stevens, a Prairie Ridge graduate. “Our senior pitcher, Julia (Rice), is from California, so she knows what it’s like to be so far away from home. We have a lot of upperclassmen, and they took me under their wing.”
This spring, Stevens has helped the Bears (34-17) immeasurably on the mound. She leads the team with a 13-4 record and a 2.02 ERA and has 89 strikeouts in 132 innings. Opposing hitters are batting only .225 against her.
Stevens ranks among the top 10 in seven pitching categories in the Atlantic Sun Conference, which named her the league’s Pitcher of the Week on Monday.
“It’s a huge honor,” she said.
Stevens said the team’s current five-game winning streak – and her 2-0 record with a pair of complete games last week – has given her and the Bears a boost.
“You learn to trust your infield and trust yourself, and to really have fun,” she said. “It’s just about having more confidence in my pitches.”
Having supportive, talented teammates also has helped.
“You’re a lot more confident [with them behind you], and it calms you down,” she said.
The fourth-seeded Bears will open the A-Sun Tournament on Wednesday against No. 5 seed Kennesaw State.
During its current winning streak, Mercer has outscored opponents 28-5.
“It’s nice to know that you’re offense is going to go out and score,” she said. “Our hitting has been really hot.”
Ace at the bat: Prairie Ridge grad Kevin Kaczmarski, a junior outfielder at D-I Evansville, was named the Missouri Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Week on Wednesday.
Kaczmarski is tops in the MVC in RBIs (43) and is tied for the league lead in doubles (16) while leading the Aces (28-15) in six offensive categories.
A .318 hitter this season, Kaczmarski was honored for hitting .500 in a three-game sweep of MVC rival Bradley while collecting four RBIs. Kaczmarski also was recognized for having a grade-point average of at least 3.20.
McConnell shines at MSOE: Crystal Lake Central grad Sara McConnell was one of four pitchers – and the only freshman pitcher – named this spring to the All-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference first team in softball.
McConnell posted a 10-8 record and a 2.08 ERA this season for D-III Milwaukee School of Engineering. In 104 1/3 innings, McConnell struck out 90 hitters. While also playing first base for MSOE, McConnell batted .323 with 17 RBIs for the Raiders (24-17).
Wrestling honor for Dechow: Old Dominion wrestler Jack Dechow was named the 184-pound first-team selection to the 2014 Virginia Sports Information Directors’ All-State Team.
The Richmond-Burton graduate placed fourth at the NCAA championships in March in Oklahoma City to cap his redshirt freshman season by earning All-America honors with a 21-6 record.
Chandler's gridiron recognition: Eric Chandler, the leading rusher last season at D-III Augustana, was chosen this week for the Hampshire Honor Society by the National Football Foundation.
Society members are chosen for having at least a 3.20 GPA, being a starter or significant contributor and having completed their final year of eligibility. An education-language major, Chandler (Cary-Grove) has a 3.55 GPA. A total of 868 players from 267 schools qualified this season.
• 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.