aBy Mark Pawlak
Central Iowa Press
TRAER - The 'had nots' from the last five years have been disappearing all summer.
With the help of seniors Morgan Halupnick and catcher Alex Oletski, North Tama finished the regular season with a 21-9 record. The Redhawks had not reached double digits in wins in the previous four years of head coach Scott Connolly’s tenure.
Photo by Mark Pawlak
Had not won 10 games in a season, had not defeated Don Bosco, GMG or CAL and had not finished in the top half of the Iowa Star Conference. Had not won a postseason game was addressed on July 7.
What had been some lean years in recent history have turned around on the softball diamond for North Tama.
After four straight years of single-digit win totals, the 2010 Redhawks finished the regular season 21-9 overall and 9-6 in the Iowa Star Conference. North Tama has wins over Don Bosco, GMG and CAL for the first time under fifth-year head coach Scott Connolly.
"North Tama softball before I got here was some pretty rough years," Connolly said. "I took my lumps my first three, four years. Last year we only had nine wins. The girls are buying into what we're doing and working hard. They are putting the team first, that's the biggest thing. I always preach team before person."
The Redhawks have a pair of seven-game winning streaks this season as they chase joining head coach Lee Wiges' teams of the 1980s by reaching the mid-20s in the win column to become one of the best seasons in school history. Four of North Tama's losses are by one run.
Run-rule shortened games against the Iowa Star's best teams along with Class 2A/3A squads on the schedule were something that happened regularly to North Tama in the past.
One team that handled the Redhawks easily early this season was Don Bosco as the Dons claimed an 11-0 victory on May 28. North Tama took the return matchup June 21 in Gilbertville 4-3 against the No. 12-ranked team in Class 1A.
"To beat Don Bosco anywhere, let alone their homefield, is huge. They are a great program, a top 15 team and I still think they are top 15 in the state," Connolly said. "We're striving for that here, getting the program to where we need to get."
The Redhawks have a mix of veterans and youth in the lineup. Seniors Morgan Halupnick (pitcher/shortstop), Amanda Hoeg (third base), Alex Oletski (catcher) and Kelsey Upah (first base) have been multi-year starters.
"They've been through everything. They've been through a one-win season and the whole rebuilding process," Connolly said.
"All the girls that have played here all these years, this season is for them," he added. "They've put in the hard time, they've taken the lumps and they are getting the benefits of it now. The younger girls are great helping out, they are contributing all the time to get us to where we're at."
North Tama went into the regional quarterfinals second in all of Iowa high school softball, according to quikstatsiowa.com, with its team batting average of .410.
Senior catcher Oletski leads the Redhawks with her .517 batting average. Six were hitting over .400 - Oletski, Amanda Howard (.471), Halupnick (.442), Erin Herink (.429), Sydney Fehr (.425) and Hoeg (.424).
Howard has a team-high 30 RBIs, while Herink leads the team in runs scored with 33. Halupnick is the team leader in hits (46) and stolen bases (37). Upah's three home runs and 19 bases on balls are both team-bests.
Halupnick (14-6) and Fehr (6-2) are North Tama's 1-2 punch in the pitching circle. The sophomore Fehr threw complete games in the wins over Don Bosco and GMG (5-3 on June 29 in Traer).
"Individually they are putting up good numbers, but we're not spectacular by only one person. It's a team effort every night," Connolly said. "If somebody has an off night, somebody else is picking them up. This is the kind of team you want to coach.
"We play clean defense, have solid pitching and we have timely hitting. I've always told the girls, we build ourselves on defense, solid pitching and timely hitting. We've got that all this year. It's the first time since I've been here that we can say that. It's been a fun year."
North Tama began regional play July 7 with a 16-3 victory over Colo-NESCO in five innings. The Redhawks won all three meetings against the Royals this season, the previous one being a 5-4 contest on June 17.
"I know it's been a lot of years since North Tama has won a district game," Connolly said. "That's one of our goals. One of them was being top three in the conference and another one is going somewhere in the postseason."