Storm Softball take sizzling start into home opener

The Simpson College Storm softball team started off the year receiving votes for the Top 25, but unranked.

After 20 games, and a 14 game trip to Florida, the Storm return to Iowa ranked No. 13 in the nation, catching the eyes of coaches across Division III with their 18-2 start.

All-around play:

Senior third baseman, Hailey Jensen attributes the start to the team’s all around play.

“I think we knew coming into the season that our bats were going to be hot and that we had a rock solid pitching staff,” Jensen said. “But I think our defense has really come alive and made the plays behind our pitchers. It’s definitely matched our hitting.”

There really hasn’t been anything the Storm haven’t been able to do so far.

Simpson pitchers have posted an eye-popping 1.33 ERA, recording eight shutouts, holding opposing hitters to a .204 average at the plate.

Aces Abbie VanVleet and Riley Fisher have led the way on the mound. VanVleet is 9-0 with a 0.62 ERA while Fisher, a DMACC transfer, is 7-2 with a 1.72 ERA and 2 saves.

VanVleet’s anemic 0.62 ERA is first in the IIAC, while Fisher leads the conference in innings pitched with 58.2.

“Most teams only have one quality pitcher, and then a thrower,” head coach Henry Christowski said. “If you have two quality pitchers that’s huge and that’s an edge that we have.”

With the bat, Simpson has scored 5.45 runs per contest, pounding out 175 hits in 20 games, hitting .316 as a team.

While there isn’t much of a hole anywhere in the lineup, juniors Tori Haag and Rachel Guessford have lead the way offensively.

Haag is hitting .425 (T-9th in IIAC) with 6 HRs and 21 RBI, while Guessford is hitting a comparable .410 with 4 HRs 19 RBI.

“Pretty much everyone in our lineup right now has contributed in someway to helping us score,” senior second baseman Ashley Prettyman said. “Being able to trust your teammates at the plate is not something all teams have, but we are fortunate to have enough experience.”

Back in the Hawkeye State:

The Storm play their home opener and first game in Iowa on Friday in a double-header against Saint Benedict College, followed by two with Gustavus Adolphus College on Mar. 28.

The Minnesota teams will go on to play Central College in Pella during the weekend in what’s called the Central/Simpson Tournament.

Saint Benedict is 9-5, riding a five-winning streak into their doubleheader with the University of St. Thomas on Wednesday.

Power Outage:

The Storm dominate on paper in the power department, hitting 22 HRs to Saint Benedict’s three, while slugging .78 points higher than the Blazers.

Simpson will likely see Taylor Ellingson in the circle. Ellingson is 5-3 with a 1.84 ERA, holding hitters to a .228 batting average.

Battle tested Gusties:

Gustavus Adolphus comes in at 7-5 but has some marquee wins on their schedule, going 2-0 with Chaminade University and BYU – Hawaii, both of which are Division II teams.

The Gusties fell to No. 7 Luther College, 3-4 and 2-5 to an 11-5 Coe College team, both out of the IIAC.

Gustavus Adolphus’ Carly Klass leads the team in hitting at .407 with 4 HRs and 9 RBI while slugging .963.

In the scope:

While Simpson is enjoying their No. 13 ranking, their highest since being No. 24 in 2013, Christowski understands the attention that comes with the ranking.

“I would have rather have stayed down there [unranked] as the target has gotten a little bigger,” Christowski said. “There will be a lot of people looking to put the pressure on us. Gustavus Adolphus and Saint Benedict will come down here expecting a battle either way.”

Final tune-up:

These are the final non-conference games for Simpson before IIAC play begins on March 31 with Central.

Central is 13-5 and ranked No. 19 in the nation, whereas Luther sits at the top at 20-0 and No. 7 in Division III.

“All of these games [in Florida and Michigan] have prepared us for conference games, but I believe IIAC teams are going to be a little bit tougher than some we have played lately. It will make for a good season.”