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PTC Softball Report (April 19): Home runs a blast for powerful Waterloo

By JONAH ROSENBLUM | Staff Writer Published: April 20, 2017 4:00 AM
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Atwater is starting to feel a little bit like Busch Stadium or Wrigley Field circa 1998.

Just like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa sent the ball rocketing out of both parks nearly two decades ago, Waterloo has been on a homerun tear to start the 2017 campaign.

The Vikings (8-1, 4-1 PTC County) have 13 homers in nine games. Seven have come from sophomore sensation Amber Cieplinski, but the most dangerous aspect of this year's Waterloo lineup is that everyone is capable of going yard.

"We do have a lot of power hitters offensively. We all hit the ball pretty hard," Cieplinski said. "Layla Lauck, Machayla Kehrer and I, we do hit the most home runs on the team, but everyone else is right up there, too."

Take Kerrie More, who hit her first homer of the season with Waterloo trailing Crestwood 6-4 in the top of the seventh Tuesday afternoon. After the game, Kehrer, who hit her own two-run smash two batters later, laughed, saying she had never seen More hit the ball like that before.

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It turns out More had more in the tank -- blasting a grand slam Wednesday.

"She has been swinging the ball really well in the last two weeks," Vikings coach Brenda Flarida said. "She's really been putting the bat on the ball."

Flarida certainly isn't taking such success for granted. She remembered entire years in which Waterloo hit only one or two blasts. Then came 2016, the year that changed it all, when Kaitlyn Hood exploded for eight homers and Cieplinski, as a freshman, came on the scene with seven.

"We were both competing with each other," Cieplinski said. "We both went back and forth with the home runs. She was always my competition. We both kind of worked off of each other."

This year will likely end with even more homers than last year, despite Hood's graduation.

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"In my whole coaching career, maybe you have one a year, so these last two years, we've had quite a few, so it definitely is fun," Flarida said.

Folks around Atwater are starting to take notice. During a recent home game against Mogadore, Waterloo fans clustered around the backstop, speculating about the length of Cieplinski's first-inning homer, the farthest blast Flarida said she had ever seen.

"I can't believe I missed it," one fan murmured.

He didn't need to worry. He only had to keep watching as Cieplinski yanked a pitch deep down the left-field line and well over the wall to give the Vikings the 12-1 victory.

As much energy as the Vikings have provided their fans with their power onslaught, the blasts have also provided more than enough electricity to light up their dugout.

"Oh my gosh, whenever anybody hits a dinger, everything just goes up," Kehrer said. "Everyone is so happy. Everyone is loud and cheering."

That was evident Tuesday against Crestwood, when two homers in three at-bats to start the seventh and take a 7-6 lead had the Waterloo dugout about ready to explode. As it turned out, explode was exactly what the Vikings did, as they finished the frame with 12 runs for a 16-6 win over the Red Devils.

"We all can hit," Kehrer said. "We all practice every day and we're all hitting bombs. I guess it just singles us out because our whole lineup can hit and you don't see that with many teams."

At times, homers can be a mixed blessing -- especially when players start to take a home run swing every time up, gradually increasing their uppercut and aiming to go yard every single at-bat. Flarida said she recently told her girls, "We all don't need to hit home runs. Let's make sure we're getting solid base hits and let's hit some ground balls."

"I deal with that sometimes," Cieplinski said. "Really you just have to be aggressive but be smart aggressive. When you're at the plate, you always have to look for your pitch."

The Vikings could just as easily have beaten the Wildcats or the Red Devils with an assemblage of singles and doubles, but there's something special about the homer. Whether it's the arcing flight of the ball or the power involved, the home run has captivated the nation since the days of Babe Ruth. It captivated America more than ever in the summer of 1998. And it's captivating Atwater now.

"A home run is always different than just a regular RBI," Cieplinski said. "Home runs just bring energy to the team. We all get pumped up and we're all ready to go."

Few would understand that better than Cieplinski.


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