The signals flashed by Russia softball catcher Riley Hammonds for pitchers Makena Hoying and Sophie Francis are usually spot on. “We are on the same wavelength,” as Hammonds put it, “one pitch after another.”
Russia’s hurlers have posted earned run averages under 2.5 per game, have walked only 40 hitters, and have struck out twice that many.
At the same time, the “pitch” from head coach Michelle Muhlenkamp is on the money as well.
“I tell our pitchers and catcher to communicate, benefit from what pitches are working best on that day or night, and, most of all, trust each other and your valuable experience,” she said.
Four seniors are on this season’s 18-1 club which was ranked first in the state again this week and began sectional play Thursday night versus Lehman Catholic. The twelfth graders on the roster are Hammonds, Francis, Ava Daniel and Emily Sunderland. The current juniors logged many innings on the diamond last season when the team went 23-2 and advanced to the regional, losing only to powerhouse Mechanicsburg and state champ Bradford.
Hammonds and others on the 2022 team are outspoken about the knowledge and instincts of the game that coach Muhlenkamp shares with her players.
“We focus on doing the little things right, day in and day out, that make teams successful,” said Hammonds. “Our practices are often game-like situations. We are energized and feel ready and confident come game time.”
Muhlenkamp added, “Smart baserunning, laying down bunts, moving runners, fielding, throwing, and cheering on your teammates are big parts of the winning formula.”
She noted, “Most importantly, I remind the girls that we play the game of softball because it is fun and these moments are memories that will last a lifetime.”
Creating lofty batting averages, low earned run averages, and other individual stats are not why we take the field, Muhlenkamp pointed out.
However, the joy derived from building a successful season since the March 29th 7-1 victory over Marion Local has helped lead the Russia hitters to a collective team batting average of .419 and an on-base percentage 50 points higher. Kelby Doseck paces the squad hitting at a .554 clip. Hammonds has a .443 average. Jaela Shappie is right behind at .433.
Muhlenkamp enjoyed a softball career at Wright State University where she posted an on-base percentage well over .300 in 2012. The year before, she was named to the Horizon League Academic Team. She lettered in softball all four years at Tippecanoe High School and was a second team all- state performer her senior season.
“It has been such a pleasure to coach at Russia after my playing days,” said Muhlenkamp, the Raiders softball mentor since 2013.
“Russia is an amazing school which has a very supportive community. The moms and dads are willing to contribute time and effort to make their girls ready for the varsity level.”
She continued, “Thanks to my incredible athletes, this job is greatly rewarding year after year.”
Muhlenkamp’s squad has its sights set on a few rewards of its own this spring. As a sectional tourney number one seed, the Raiders hope to reach the regional at Northmont, advance from there, and contend for a state title. Russia’s toughest competition may come in its own region from the Bradford, Mechanicsburg and Covington programs, which are second, third and four seeds, respectively.
A possible district final versus Southeastern won’t be easy either.
Through it all, the Raiders will have fun the “Muhlenkamp way” — a game, an inning, and a pitch, at a time.