BY AARON PATTERSON
If Mars Blackmon had been at Saturday’s Danville Vikings softball doubleheader against Decatur Eisenhower, he might have been in Tera Baxter’s ear the entire morning yelling, “It’s gotta be the shoes!”
Not the shoes she wore during the Vikings’ sweep (26-4, 16-0) of the Panthers, but the ones promised to her by her dad if she had a good day.
The extra incentive just might have worked as Baxter broke out of a slump both at the plate and in the pitching circle to help lead her team to consecutive wins for only the second time this season.
“I’ve been wanting new cleats, and he didn’t think I deserved them yet because I hadn’t been doing very well,” Baxter said. “But, I stepped up today.”
Baxter hit her first home run of the season in the opener, and followed it with her second in the finale. She finished the day with three hits and drove in six runs, but perhaps equally as impressive was her performance in the circle.
Baxter (1-2) had not won a game yet this season, but threw the final inning of the opener and all five in the second game without allowing a hit.
“Tera had a great day,” Danville coach Brittni Moorehead said. “She got a couple home runs there, and I think that got her confidence back with the bat. Then, we put her out as pitcher today in our second game, and I think she pitched incredibly well for us.
“We were really happy with that, and we were really happy to have the opportunity to put her back out there as a pitcher, and that she was able to get some of her confidence back in that area.”
As a team, the Vikings (5-9 overall, 1-2 in the Big 12 Conference) might have been just as happy to get back in the win column after losing their last four games. Four losses and three rainouts place the last win for the Vikings on April 9 in a 14-0 victory over the Oakwood Comets.
Danville followed it with an 11-8 loss to Westville, and since then has failed to score.
The Vikings went 19 consecutive innings without crossing the plate until Lindsey Loewenstein’s flyout in the first inning of Saturday’s opener scored Jordan Ogle. They went on to score another run in the inning, and sent a total of 36 batters to the plate in the final three frames of the game. All nine batters in the lineup crossed the plate in the fourth when Danville plated 12 runs.
“We’ve been rained out a lot this week,” said Moorehead. “We only got one game in, but we worked a lot on our hitting when we were stuck in the field house and inside on those rainy days. I think that really helped us turn around our bats today and get some hits and some runs. We came back with a lot of confidence today.”
The Vikings tallied a total of 31 hits and 42 runs in the two games after managing only 24 runs in the last seven.
Jeannette Cullum played only in the opener but had three hits and drove in five runs while Loewenstein had three hits and four RBI. Katy Aguirre had six hits and drove in four, and Chloe Davis had four hits in the opener including two doubles and drove in three runs. She also recorded her third pitching win of the season in the same game.
“It felt really good because we finally came together as a team and decided to bring everything together,” said Baxter. “We really weren’t sure if we were going to do as good this year as we did last year switching coaches and trying to get into the flow of everything, but I think we’re doing pretty good.”
For Moorehead, Saturday’s success came down to bringing a different perspective to the field. The Vikings have now outscored their opponents 75-11 in their five wins, and four of their losses have come by four runs or less.
Seeing the outpouring of offense, along with the pitching and defense to back it up, was a blessed assurance for the Vikings who are trying to rebound from their most recent slide.
“This is huge for us,” said Moorehead. “We’ve been talking a lot about focusing and bringing a positive attitude to all of our games. We turned that around today, and I think that will help us in our games to come and boost our confidence level so we can keep this win streak going. I think that our focus and our attitude really helped us out today.”
The Vikings will take their new winning streak on the road Monday to Charleston in a make-up game from March 26 before going to Champaign on Tuesday to take on the Central Maroons. Danville ’s next home game is scheduled for April 30 against Urbana .