TERRE HAUTE —
The Indiana State softball offense is no juggernaut, but the fog may be clearing on a program that has had a long history of struggles with few signs of consistent winning.
Explosive, dedicated athletes like Morgan Allee and Megan Stone are two reasons to believe this group of Sycamores can spark a turnaround.
The Sycamores are scoring an average of 3.1 runs per game while also ranking in the middle of the Missouri Valley Conference pack in hits and batting average. But the Sycamores are on pace to break the school record for on-base percentage as they lead the MVC in walks, hit-by-pitches, sacrifice bunts and stolen bases.
Allee, with 17 regular-season games to go, broke the school record for stolen bases in a season Tuesday against IUPUI and is among the 10 best in the NCAA. Her total of 30 makes up almost half of ISU’s 74.
“I’m so big [that] they think I won’t go. It works out well,” the stocky shortstop said.
Allee, ISU’s leadoff hitter, and her total among the nation’s best is probably not surprising anyone now. She is enjoying the Sycamores’ ability to stick to a disciplined approach at the plate.
“Everyone’s goal when they go up to bat is to hit strikes, get a good pitch, take a good swing, hit the ball hard. We know as long as we do those, we’re going to be successful,” Allee said.
You might think the Sycamores have a small-ball approach based on all the aforementioned statistics and that would be correct. But ISU also is on pace to finish second in program history in home runs.
Stone, a Sullivan County product, has three home runs during MVC action to lead the league while also ranking second in doubles during overall games with nine. Shelby Wilson is tied with Stone for the team lead with six home runs and Wilson leads the team in runs batted in with 26.
“One of our biggest goals is to get three runs or more. We’ve done really well offensively most of the time trying to get that. Getting the bunts down is a big key to our game. We do that really well,” Stone said.
The former North Central Thunderbird standout said Allee’s presence at the top of the lineup has helped Wilson and her drive in runs.
“It definitely helps. Most of the time she gets on, she’s standing at second. Then our bunter just has to get her to third and we just need a quality at-bat,” Stone said.
As ISU coach Shane Bouman attempts to resurrect the program from a culture of losing, he needs athletes like Stone and Allee, a junior transfer from Iowa Central Junior College.
“She’s one that was recruited as an athlete,” Bouman said of Allee. “Right now, she’s playing shortstop. When she gets on base, she can make things happen. She’s a very aggressive player, loves the game of softball. She’s a great person to be around on a daily basis and has been a real spark for us, just on how she approaches the game. She sparks us offensively, but she’s been a big boost for our team. It’s going to be fun to have her around another year.”
Stone, who has moved to first base this season after playing shortstop and third base as a freshman, is working hard to maintain the day-to-day approach that Bouman needs for the program.
“She’s one that’s put in a lot of time and committed herself to the culture we want,” Bouman said. “You’ve seen a change in her approach on a daily basis. When I say time, people are thinking hours and hours. I’m talking about 15 minutes, do they get better in that 15 minutes? It’s how they do things as much as the period of time they do things.
“When they’re taking 20 swings for 15 minutes, they’re taking advantage of them. Little stuff that goes a long ways in the game of softball.”
Stone’s team-high .363 batting average and .657 slugging percentage haven’t come by accident. She’s taking to heart the coaching she gets. She’s coachable, as many in the profession like to say.
“I love constructive criticism. If I’m not doing something right, I love that my coaches let me know. It helps me. I think that’s what’s helped me get better and a lot of the extra hitting that we get to do,” Stone said. “It helps me get the feel for it and get that confidence. The biggest thing for me is, see the ball and hit the ball.”
Stone sees the entire team gaining momentum even if its 3-9 MVC record doesn’t show it.
“I definitely think that coming in more [for extra hitting practice], he wants you to get those swings. You go up and you think you can hit any pitcher. It’s great for everyone on our team to have that mentality that they can go up and do that. All of our girls are building confidence,” Stone said.
The Sycamores have a big series with first-place Creighton this weekend, which is only their sixth, seventh and eighth home games of the season. Then the last few weekends, the Sycamores will hope to make up ground against the teams directly ahead of them in the standings.
Bouman is excited to see the offense keep working hard to give the Sycamores a chance.
“As long as we get good pitches — we’re getting a lot of walks — swinging at strikes, moving the ball, stealing and running the bases aggressively is leading to a lot of runs,” Bouman said. “We’re hoping our defense can tighten up and our young pitching staff can keep advancing these last few weeks. It’s going to come down to the last four weekends, which is going to be exciting.”