'We need to get better now': Clinton softball looking to recoup, finish season strong

·4 min read
Clinton's Raven Aldridge claps her hands toward the Redwolves dugout as she heads to first base after drawing a walk in Monday's doubleheader against Dundee.
Clinton's Raven Aldridge claps her hands toward the Redwolves dugout as she heads to first base after drawing a walk in Monday's doubleheader against Dundee.

CLINTON –– As dusk settled in, the picture seemed to fade.

The 2012 Clinton softball team, 43-1, winners of 39 straight and the second of back-to-back Division 3 state champions, lives on in a roster photo posted on a concourse of record holders and titles behind the Redwolves home dugout.

Time has taken a toll. Former head coach Al Roberts’ megawatt smile is dimmed after years of exposure to the elements. Imprecise scratches deface the rest of the last roster to make it to the summit. Once-vibrant colors in a perfect moment have dulled.

But as the ten year anniversary of that triumph draws closer, Kim Phillip has not faded. Nor has her passion for the game: the same one that sat on a bucket of balls calling pitches as an assistant when her sophomore daughter, Kendall, was four days old, settled on a bucket once again as Clinton’s head coach to catch a bullpen before the Redwolves faced off against Dundee.

Clinton's Noelle Riley (far left), Sydney Schuler (center), Kendall Phillip (back) and Davia Welch (right) celebrate after a final out in an inning during Monday's doubleheader against Dundee.
Clinton's Noelle Riley (far left), Sydney Schuler (center), Kendall Phillip (back) and Davia Welch (right) celebrate after a final out in an inning during Monday's doubleheader against Dundee.

Reserved after two closely contested games, that passion continued to shine through in Phillip’s voice like the dying sunlight in between the pines adorning the outfield fence.

“Usually if I tell someone they’re great, they believe me,” she said. “These girls don’t. They still have fear, they’re still nervous about their place on the team. They shouldn’t be. I just want them to play with confidence.”

Clinton was swept by league-leading Dundee in an LCAA doubleheader on Monday. The Vikings staved off comeback attempt after comeback attempt to win Game 1, 6-4, and then launched a final rally of their own in the sixth to win Game 2, 7-5.

The Redwolves (19-6, 6-2) competed hard, taking leads and launching rallies that came one swing of the bat away from success, but the Vikings kept them off balance  enough to stay ahead in two of their biggest games of the season.

With two more opportunities in the rearview, Phillip now hopes the sweep will serve as a wakeup call for her team.

“I feel like we need to get better now and maybe dropping an LCAA doubleheader to Dundee is what we needed to humble ourselves and get that work and get that mindset to win the rest of our games,” she said.

To be clear, Clinton is far from a slouching team. Freshman Taryn Hernandez (1.57 ERA) and sophomore Kendall Phillip (1.93 ERA) help lead a team with only one senior from the circle with the two lowest earned run averages in the county.

Kyleigh Ramos (4-for-4 in Game 2 against Dundee) highlights the Redwolves order by providing an aggressive and versatile hitting presence. When Clinton plays together in the field, the defense can be as crisp as any.

But the struggle-to put it all together, finish comebacks and put away games for good remains.

“This year has been tough,” coach Phillip said. “We lost five home run hitters to graduation last year and they’re kind of trying to find their place in the lineup. Sometimes we get those clutch hits, sometimes we don’t. Tonight was just one of those.”

Phillip's memories of 2012’s state title team remain sharp in illustrating what she feels her team is missing.

“Those girls were just confident,” she said of Clinton’s last state title team. “Singles turned into doubles, doubles turned into triples. They didn’t fear anything or anybody.

“There was a whole lot of stubbornness on that team. That’s just something that these girls need to learn to have and hone in on their skills and know that they can be stubborn, too.”

While Phillip admitted to feeling some frustration during this season, it’s far from a lost cause. She pointed to runs in 2018 and 2021 as examples of teams that took longer to come together than others and made deep playoff runs all the same.

“We started out winning games 17-14. We were making errors like crazy," she said of the 2021 team that made the state semifinals.

With the concessions stand shuttered and the scoreboard turned off, dusk took hold. A few weeks remain in the regular season and Clinton's chances to reach its full potential remain firmly in front of them.

The opportunity to fade away remains, too. Phillip was direct in saying what they needed to do to prevent that.

“It’s gonna come down to how bad they want it,” she said. “(If) they want it bad enough, they’ll fight for it.

“And I’m just hoping they want it as bad as I do.”

This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Kim Phillip described what she's looking for to close the season.