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Softball notes: Wichita South making rapid improvement

Published April 26 at 2:51 p.m. | Last updated April 26 at 2:52 p.m.

Well before Rob Graf made the move this season from being South’s baseball coach to softball coach, he talked to his daughter, Kayla.

Graf had coached his daughter for about seven years in the summer and wanted to coach her in high school. So when the opportunity came to coach at South, Kayla, a sophomore first baseman, transferred from Campus to play for her dad.

“She said she was interested in me being her coach, and not only in the summer but in high school,” Graf said. “How many people get to coach their daughter in high school?”

But the season has been even more enjoyable for Graf because the Titans are winning.

They started the season 10-2, splitting with Arkansas City and Heights, and were 9-1 in the City League.

While South was swept by Kapaun on Thursday night and split with Dodge City on Friday, the Titans (11-5, 9-3 City League) already have their best league record in 21 seasons.

From 1993-2013, South won eight league games once, seven games five times and had one winless season. South consistently finished between fifth and seventh in the league during that span.

“I’m very happy with the start we’ve had,” Graf said. “It’s better than what I expected.”

Graf chalks up the improvement to timely hitting.

“It has helped us tremendously,” he said. “We’ve been able to put the ball in play a lot.… We’ve been able to string hits together, four, five hits together. Before one or two would get a hit and then be stranded. But stringing four, five hits together, that produces runs.”

Senior shortstop Tori Rose has been a standout, as has pitcher Kimberly Rose.

“We’ve been able to get bunts down and move runners into position,” Graf said.

South’s defense has steadily improved, as well. Graf has moved players around, including moving Abby Brewster from catcher to third and Destiney Hicks from first to catcher.

“I had to put everyone where I thought it would be best for the whole team,” he said.

Graf believes in practices packed with fundamentals. With only one pitcher, the Titans don’t hit live pitching during practice.

“Fundamentals, fundamentals,” he said. “It gets routine and boring, doing the same drills over and over, but if you’re fundamentally sound, you can compete with anyone you play against.”

Maize’s defense shining – If there’s any moment Maize coach Jenny Meirowsky would like to do over, it’s the Eagles’ season opener against Carroll. Maize lost both games and the defense struggled.

“We’ve come a long ways,” said Meirowsky, whose team won its next six games. “We had a really rough game against Carroll. We had quite a few errors against them. I wish I could have that game back. We’ve come a long way since then and have a lot more confidence now. We know teams will hit the ball at us, so we’re more on our toes, not on our heels.”

Carroll junior pitcher Brittany Finney played at Maize in 2013 and she threw with power, so the defense didn’t have to do as much work.

Junior Meghan Grimes and senior Caitlin Randolph are different pitchers, and the defense needed to learn that.

“They just move the ball around really well and do a really good job of hitting their spots,” Meirowsky said of her pitchers. “That puts the pressure on me. I know they can hit their spots if I call it in the right spot. I have to know those hitters.”

Maize’s outfield, which includes All-Metro selection Emily Griggs in center, has experience.

The biggest adjustments have been in the infield, including the move by sophomore Allie Jurgensen from third to shortstop because Meirowsky needed a quick defensive player in the middle.

“I think we’ve really showed progress since our first game,” Meirowsky said. “They continue to work hard in the infield — ‘Give me one more coach, give me one more.’ They stay after practice, and they’re really driven to do well.”

Stats to watch – Goddard has eight players hitting .400 or better: Talli Shepherd (.634), Miranda Rohleder (.545), Leah Fisher (.500), Kacee Moore (.474), Brianna Fuchs (.469), Kayli Nikkel (.440), Julisa Ortega (.417) and Megan Dougherty (.400).

Reach Joanna Chadwick at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachadwick.