Eureka College softball

Tom Batters
Metamora native Carissa Alig started all 34 games at shortstop for the Red Devils last year. She returns along with second baseman Tomi Tapper and third baseman Jill Doty, who is also from Metamora.

Early in the 2010 season, Eureka College leftfieldfer Lauren Kao threw out a runner at home plate with a perfect laser of a throw.

Then, the word got around: “Don’t run on her!”

Kao is one of several returning starters for the Red Devils, who made it to the SLIAC Tournament for the first time in school history last year.

This year, although the conference coaches picked them fifth in the preseason poll, the Red Devils are destined to be one of the top teams in the league.

Like Kao’s throwing arm, the word is out: This team is loaded with talented players, especially at the plate.

“Our lineup is solid from top to bottom,” Sparks said. “We don’t have a weak spot, and we have depth at every position. I’m very excited about the group we have this year ... We have a great group of returning players and we brought in a strong recruiting class.”

You may have heard of one of those recruits.

Her name is Caty Eeten, the Eureka High School graduate who broke just about every school record and ended her career with some of the best numbers in state history.

Eeten transferred to Eureka College after starting the year at Illinois Central College. She was named an all conference basketball player last month, too.

“She’s an incredible athlete,” Sparks said.

Eeten will catch and play outfield.

Emily Campbell, a freshman from Pontiac will also share some of the catching duties.

“She’s a true gym rat. She’s always one of the last ones to leave practice,” Sparks said. “She works well with the pitchers and has an outstanding arm.”

Tomi Tapper, a junior second baseman who made the All SLIAC first team last year, returns to anchor the infield.

“She’s the best second baseman in our conference,” Sparks said. “Some of the plays she makes, even in practice, are amazing.”

Tapper finished her second season at Eureka with a .277 average, 12 runs scored, three doubles, two home runs and 16 RBI.  She was especially solid against SLIAC competition, hitting .364 (16-for-44) with a .523 slugging percentage in 15 starts.

Carissa Alig, a junior from Metamora, will start at shortstop again in 2011.

Jill Doty, a senior from Metamora, will return at third base, and she will also pitch.

“They are great team leaders,” Sparks said.

Freshman Amanda Murphy will take over at first base in place of all-conference player Cathy Kalnicky, who graduated.

Ace starting pitcher Kelsey Brandt also graduated, but Sparks said junior Sarah Jesse is ready to step into that role.

“She pitched a lot of innings last year, and she did pretty well (7-8, 5.16 ERA). We’re glad to have her back,” Sparks said.

Junior transfer Kelsey Cochran, who pitched a complete game in Eureka’s season opener over the weekend, will also be in the pitching rotation.

Junior Sara Hamilton, a transfer from ICC, will compete for one of the remaining outfield spots (along with Kao in left field).

“Sara is a hard-nosed player who gives all she’s got,” Sparks said. “She’s a great hitter and she has a strong arm.”

Senior outfielder Amy Scammahorn, who started all 26 games and had a team-high seven stolen bases last year, returns.

“We have a shot at getting five or six all-conference players this year,” Sparks said. “We feel that we can compete with anybody on the conference.”

Opening day

Eureka lost its season opener, 9-1, against Berry (Ga.) Sunday in Memphis. Later that day, the Red Devils lost to Rhodes College, 10-0. Their eight-game spring break trip concludes tomorrow.