Road warriors come home

After 20 games on the road, the Western Nebraska Community College softball team will be at home Sunday and Monday when they host Dawson Community College.

Sunday's first pitch is slated for 3 p.m. with Monday's opening pitch at noon at Volunteer Field in Scottsbluff.

The Cougars enter the home stand at 13-7 after putting up 26 runs in a doubleheader sweep of Northeastern Junior College on Wednesday.

WNCC coach Maria Winn-Ratliff said the team is excited to be playing at home.

"We are tired of being on the road and being on the bus and there is a lot of family in town and they are super excited to be playing at home," she said. "But to win four games, we first have to worry about winning two games and then worry about those other two games when Sunday is over."

What Winn-Ratliff is hoping for is a repeat performance of their game on Wednesday when they played well in recording two shutout wins over Northeastern Junior College, 9-0 and 17-0.

"We just have to take it one game at a time and we have had good pitching," she said. "Shelby [McGraw] has done a nice job for us since taking the lead in throwing the first game. We look to her to help us in the circle and keep them off balance.

"The defense has been better than I expected for not being outside and getting the reps that we normally get this time of year. Offensively, I hope we can find a way to put up 26 runs and find a day like we can produce runs like we did on Wednesday. If we can do those things, I think we have an opportunity to win."

Winn-Ratliff said in game two on Sunday, the two freshmen pitchers, Madison Davis and Jordan Smith, will throw.

The Cougars are looking to get back on the right track after dropping four of sight games recently. Dawson will not be easy games because last year Dawson captured the Region IX Division II championship and finished with a record of 20-14. This will be Dawson's first games of the season.

"They are very well coached and they returned a lot of key players from last year," Winn-Ratliff said. "They are eager to play. I have talked to their coach throughout the week because we really wanted to play at home and they really wanted to play games.

"We can't take anyone lightly during the course of the year of who they played, or what they did last year. Every team is different from what they did last year and every team is different from where they were at the beginning of this year. We can't worry about what Dawson does or what Dawson did last year; we just have to worry about what we bring to the table of every inning of every game."

The Cougars have a four-person pitching staff that have a combined 2.79 earned run average. McGraw leads the team with a 2.02 ERA and had 20 strikeouts. Closely behind is Davis with a 2.16 ERA with 19 strikeouts and Smith with a 3.13 ERA and leads the team with 37 strikeouts. RaVae Herrera is the fourth pitcher when she isn't playing first base.

Offensively, the Cougars have a combined .511 batting average and have already smacked 37 doubles and 13 homes runs. McGraw, Jessica Ball, and LIndsay Guymon are the three big hitters for the Cougars. Ball, a freshman, has a .437 average with six doubles and six home runs from her leadoff batting position. Guymon, also a freshman, is batting .431 with five doubles and three home runs, while McGraw is batting .429 with seven doubles and three triples. McGraw is also the team leader in RBIs with 21 along with Alysa Linford.

The Cougars have also shown some speed on the base paths, collecting 61 stolen bases so far this season. Kelsey Bernhardt leads the team stolen bases followed by Ball with nine.

After the four-game series with Dawson, the Cougars will be back on the road for a Spring Break trip to Texas. Their next home games will be March 21 when they host Otero Junior College before hosting Williston State on March 26.

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