"Eat your doughnut."
That's the mantra of the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton softball team in 2018. Head coach Megan Christopher brought the idea to her team at the start of practice this season.
"We brought doughnuts in," she said, "and the idea was to tie them to a string and have the girls try to take bites as the doughnut raised and lowered. I looked over and saw Tyler Kroll without a doughnut and asked where it was."
Kroll: "I ate it, coach."
After the laughter died down, "eat your doughnut" solidified itself as the catchphrase for a talented and excited group of young ladies.
On Thursday night, the Bulldogs took on the Medford Tigers in the first game of the 2018 season. After losing last year, 19-8, and the previous year, 14-4, the girls took a huge step forward in this game going into the bottom of the seventh inning tied, 8-8.
The youthful Tigers were just a little too much for the Bulldogs in the end as they scratched across the winning run in the bottom of the seventh to win the game, 9-8, starting their season off with a victory.
"I was ready to really get after the girls for letting that one slip away," said Christopher, "but in reality, this was a moral victory. I'm a competitor. I don't like using that term, but these girls have never played that well against Medford. They were happy which made me happy for them."
"All I ask for is that they give me perfect effort. Not perfection, that's an impossible request. There were times where I thought we didn't quite give that perfect effort, but other times where it was more than perfect."
An instance of that happened late in the game with runners on second and third for Medford. A hard grounder up the middle was knocked down by second baseman Katlyn Jaeger. The runner from third scored, but by keeping the ball in front of her, she saved the other run from coming in.
"It comes down to just improving every day," said the coach. "I see it in practice and we saw it today."
Third baseman Ashlee Knudson had three doubles on the afternoon and Jaeger added three slap singles of her own to pace the Bulldogs.
"We've been working really hard on taking extra bases. Turning singles into doubles. Moving from first to third on a single. Scoring from second on those singles. The girls are like sponges and we're only going to get better," said Christopher.
Senior pitcher Cassidy Storjohann has become something of a pet project for Christopher. She pitched well considering the cold conditions, but the coach feels like she has raw talent that has yet to be tapped.
"Cassidy is so willing to learn," Chrstopher said. "There's something about her attitude that makes you just want to continue feeding her with knowledge. She has to work on her control and communication, but when she gets it, she's going to be a force for us. I was very happy with her performance today."
The Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead to start the game off, showing patience and confidence at the plate, but some mental errors and some youthful mistakes eventually cost them the game. Christopher says that it's just another learning experience.
"I'm so excited to be coaching these girls," she said. "We were so good at the plate tonight. It was very encouraging. We can always improve in every facet, but the only thing that left me a little discouraged were those few plays where the effort wasn't perfect, but we'll get there."
The doughnuts are being stocked up at JWP High School and these girls are hungry.
Weather permitting, the next game for the Bulldogs will be at 4:30 pm April 17 at Madelia.