CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Prairie softball coach Erin Johnson wanted pitcher Payton Akers, “to go out her senior year with a bang.”
After just five appearances in the pitching circle through her first three varsity seasons, Akers has pitched her way to the team lead in wins, earned run average and strikeouts this year.
“We worked very hard all winter,” Johnson said after the Class 5A No. 14 Hawks swept Western Dubuque, 5-0 and 3-2, in a Mississippi Valley Conference doubleheader Thursday at Prairie High School. “We sat down after our season last year in a meeting and I told her what my expectations were. I got her lined up with some extra outside help. We started working on mental routine and building confidence and everything. So far, she has done a very, very, very good job. I couldn’t be more proud of her. She put in a ton of work this winter.”
Akers pitched the opening game and surrendered five hits with one walk and five strikeouts in seven scoreless frames. She also induced nine ground balls back to the circle for outs. Her record is now 7-1 with an earned run average of 0.79 and 50 strikeouts.
“I worked really hard during the winter to try and get my control down,” Akers said. “Because that was my biggest thing. Ever since then, I have been getting the hang of it and I have the support of my whole team. They have been backing me up the whole way.”
Jensyn Jones, Amaya Snyder and Hannah Ironside each had run-scoring hits in Game 1 for Prairie (14-5, 9-3 MVC). In the second game, the Hawks scored all three of their runs in the first two innings with RBI singles by Makenna Moenk and Gabby Robinson, plus a sacrifice fly by Jones. Sophomore pitcher Riley Sauser (5-1) made sure the runs held up in the one-run victory.
Prairie has won six of its last seven games, a streak that has the attention of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, which ranked the Hawks No. 14 in 5A before the doubleheader.
That was news to the team.
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“We don’t even discuss it,” Johnson said. “I’ll be honest. We don’t. I tell them, I don’t want them looking at their stats, I don’t want them looking at the newspapers. We are just going to come out and we do our thing. We come out and practice and play our game.”
Junior Amy Kane hit her first home run of the season in the second game for Western Dubuque, which is now 8-10 overall and 6-9 in the MVC.
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