PROPHETSTOWN — In its season opener just over a week ago, the Erie-Prophetstown softball team needed to break out its rally caps to score a victory over Three Rivers East Division rival Kewanee.
But in the four games since that 8-7 victory on April 22, the Panthers have been a juggernaut, outscoring their opposition 45-1 and posting three shutouts to fuel a 5-0 start that includes three TRAC East victories.
"I really didn't know what to expect," Erie-Prophetstown head coach Kerrie Tenboer said. "I knew we had good hitters coming in and that we had a strong lineup from one through nine, but in every game, every single person has been hitting the ball extremely hard.
"So, I can't say I'm shocked. These girls have been ready for the season. They've showed up ready to play, and they've kept the ball rolling."
While the Panther offense has been pounding the ball at a prodigious rate, their pitching has been just as formidable in the season's opening weeks.
Sophomore Aylah Jones has been an impressive addition to the E-P lineup with a 3-0 record that includes a 10-strikeout showing in an 11-1 win over Fulton and a 14-strikeout, no-hit performance in an 8-0 conference victory over Bureau Valley. At the plate, she is hitting .700 (14 hits in 20 at-bats) with 11 runs scored and eight RBIs.
"She's batting leadoff for us and is playing phenomenal right now," Tenboer said. "Sydney Schwartz is a freshman who's split time between outfield and shortstop, and she's played in every game for us and is doing very well."
It was Schwartz who had the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the seventh against Kewanee after E-P had scored four times in the sixth to overcome a 7-3 deficit. Two other younger Panthers, the junior pair of utility player Mya Jones (.500, six runs, six RBIs) and second baseman Emma Davis, have been instrumental in their team's fast start.
Another junior, outfielder Jaden Johnson, was a key cog in the E-P lineup in 2019 and has continued her strong play following the one-season layoff, batting .533 and driving in nine runs.
Senior Corrie Remley has picked up where she left off after a 10-win campaign during the Panthers' 22-9, conference-championship season of 2019. She has a pair of wins, including a perfect game in last Friday's 16-0 romp past Morrison. Classmate and catcher Ady Scott is batting .444 with eight RBIs.
Up next for Erie-Prophetstown on Tuesday is TRAC East rival Princeton, the team that nipped the Panthers 4-3 in the 2019 IHSA Class 2A Alleman Regional title game. That was the fifth straight regional-final loss for E-P.
But with a postseason planned for this spring, Tenboer's club is putting that loss behind them and re-focusing on its bid for the co-op's first postseason hardware since 2000.
"We didn't say anything about that right off the bat, but we talked right before the start of the season and reminisced about last year at one of our last practices before the first game," Tenboer said. "Since then, we don't reflect a lot on last year. That's over and done with.
"We're excited to play now, and go long this season."