ELDRIDGE — Durant softball coach Steve Hopkins has a conundrum.
His team's top two pitchers, Kamryn Meyer and Jenna Lawson, are battling arm injuries and less than 100 percent.
How does Hopkins not overuse Meyer and Lawson but still help his team navigate through a taxing schedule and uphold its Class 2A No. 1 ranking?
"That's the formula we're trying to figure out," Hopkins said. "It is a balancing act on how many innings we can get from each pitcher right now.
"I really don't want to throw eighth graders into the fire, but if that's what we have to do, we will."
Injuries aside, Durant is 13-2 and undefeated in River Valley Conference play going into Monday night's doubleheader against rival Wilton.
The Wildcats have a target on their backs this season.
Besides five trips to the state tournament in the last six years, they were the preseason No. 1 and have the majority of their team back from a third-place state finish.
"Regardless of who we play, we have to bring it every game," Hopkins said. "That's one thing we're trying to get our kids to understand. We don't get an off night. That's what comes with being ranked."
Hopkins doesn't believe his team has come close to reaching its ceiling.
Still, the Wildcats have found a way to squeak out wins over 5A fifth-ranked Dubuque Hempstead, 4A 10th-ranked North Scott, 2A eight-ranked Louisa-Muscatine and an improved Bellevue squad.
Durant's losses have been to Louisa-Muscatine and New London.
"We're in a little slump right now," Lawson said after Friday's games at the Denny Johnson Classic. "We really have to stay intense because we know there is a target on us.
"We just need to keep our heads up, keep pushing and keep our head in the game."
Meyer is 9-1 with a 1.20 ERA and Lawson is 4-1 with a 1.14. Meyer also leads the Wildcats with a .423 average. Hopkins' team is ignited by Ruby Kappeler (.404 avg.) and Hannah Happ (.400 avg.) at the top of the lineup.
Durant did graduate two vital leaders from last year's 33-win team — all-state catcher Cathy Ralfs and second baseman Aubrey Werthmann.
The Wildcats have only one senior on this year's roster in Jalyn Bullard.
"We're waiting for some leaders to step up," Hopkins said. "It is kind of hindering us at this point, but hopefully things will get sorted out in the next few days to next couple of weeks.
"I'm confident we'll have some kids step up and take the reins."
The objective is for Durant to reach its optimal peak in early July and make another appearance at the Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
"We look at all this as just a prep for regionals," Hopkins said. "For us right now, the main thing is getting healthy."
PV surge: Pleasant Valley's softball team was hovering around .500 at the start of last week. The Spartans got healthy and found another gear in the last week, going 8-0 and jumping into a first-place Mississippi Athletic Conference tie.
The Spartans (14-5) beat six ranked opponents in that stretch — 3A top-ranked Assumption (three times), 5A third-ranked West Des Moines Valley and a doubleheader sweep over 4A 10th-ranked North Scott.
Ellie Spelhaug, coming back from a bone bruise above her left elbow, is having a stellar senior season. She is batting .500 with 15 extra-base hits, 27 RBIs and only two strikeouts in 56 at-bats (21 Ks last year). In the circle, the Bradley basketball recruit is 8-1 with a 1.41 ERA.
Dondiego on upswing: Northeast's Casidy Dondiego had a sub-par season by her standards last season with a .342 average, 5 home runs and 25 RBIs.
The senior is on a tear through 11 games this summer — 26-for-41 (.634 average), 4 doubles, 4 home runs and 18 RBIs. In fact, she has hit safely in every game for the 8-3 Rebels, including four hits and six RBIs in a win over Mid-Prairie last Tuesday.
Regional pairings: The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union plans to release regional softball pairings for Class 1A, 2A and 3A next Monday. The 4A and 5A pairings are expected out Friday, June 22.
The postseason commences in 1A and 2A on July 2. Regional finals are July 9 for the lower three classifications and July 10 for 4A and 5A schools. The state tournament is July 16-20 in Fort Dodge.