Better. In a word, that describes the 2019 Lincolnwood High School softball team, at least in comparison to the 2018 version of the Lady Lancers.
Despite playing three fewer games, Lincolnwood had more runs (165 to 136) and hits (175 to 164) and a better team ERA (4.80 to 7.08) than they did last year. That resulted in two more wins than last year as well, and while 8-17 isn't the kind of record the Lancers are hoping for, it showed that their hard work has them going in the right direction.
Coach Greg Neisler's team will only lose two seniors to graduation, but they will leave some pretty big shoes to fill.
Sadie Slightom led the team in hitting in 2019, batting .413 with 33 hits, 24 singles and 27 RBIs, all of which were team-bests. She was also second in doubles with eight and struck out just eight times during the season, another team-best average of once every ten at-bats.
Slightom was also Lincolnwood's ace, posting a 4.03 ERA with 47 strikeouts and 26 walks. She would finish the season 4-7 with 69.1 innings pitched and 93 runs allowed, only 40 of which were earned.
Lincolnwood's second senior, Savannah Bowman, saw her progression slowed by injury but still contributed for the Lancers. She finished the year with nine hits in 46 at-bats, including two doubles and a home run. She also had ten RBIs, tied for third most on the team.
Even with losing just two players to graduation, the Lady Lancers will still be super young next year as there were only two juniors on a 13-player roster.
Kyra Shull was limited due to injuries (an unpleasant theme for the Lady Lancers), while Sydney Glick was a solid number two in the pitching rotation. In 2019, Herman led the team in innings pitched with 71.2, allowing 104 runs (56 earned) on 110 hits with an ERA of 5.47. She had 36 strikeouts and walked 57. If she can improve her control, her stats should improve her senior year.
Lincolnwood does have a strong sophomore and freshman class coming back, and with a year more experience under their belts, they have potential to make bigger strides in 2020.
Sophomore Cassie Krager's average dipped slightly, from .302 to .266, but had more runs (27) and RBIs (19) and struck out fewer times in 2019.
It's not typical to have your catcher lead the team in steals, but Brittany Slightom isn't your typical catcher. The Lancers' sophomore backstop had 14 steals and 15 walks, both team highs, while improving her average by 97 points to .260 on the season. She also scored 24 runs, third best on the team.
Both Katelyn Payne and Maggie McClelland also improved dramatically at the plate after batting under .200 for their freshman seasons. Payne upped her average to .259 from .186 last year, picking up two doubles and eight RBIs as well. McClelland batted .160 as a freshman and .241 as a sophomore, picking up nine RBIs and scoring 15 runs for the Lancers. Sophie Rainwater also gained some varsity experience in 2019 and could play a bigger role next year.
Lincolnwood's four freshmen were also nice additions to the club, with three earning frequent starting time this year.
Sidney Glick was a force at the top of the order, providing some pop with 11 doubles and two home runs, both team highs. Glick would bat .351 for the season with 31 runs scored and ten runs driven in, while also successfully patrolling center field for the Lancers.
Marisa Webb would be Lincolnwood's regular second baseman, a new position for her, and batted .205 on the season with eight RBIs. She also saw some time on the mound late in the season, allowing five earned runs in 6.1 innings, with seven strikeouts and six walks.
Desi Pitchford would not have as many at-bats as Glick or Webb (more injuries) but had eight hits and was solid in the field at third base. She and fellow freshman Shelby Hattenbach, courtesy runner extraordinaire with ten runs scored and only nine at-bats, will also play a bigger role next season.
The key for the Lady Lancers will be to take the lessons from this year and continue to take steps going forward. Lincolnwood's last regional title came in 2016, which was also their last winning season, but with a strong core coming back, both of those streaks could come to an end soon.