April 28, 2016

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

CARTERVILLE - Two players from Southern Illinois have enjoyed immense success this spring on the John A. Logan College softball team.

Sophomores Kiley Pelker of Nashville and Katrina Whitley of Du Quoin are finishing the season strong.

Pelker is a two-year starter at shortstop. She is batting a ridiculous .423 with a .477 on-base percentage. She has 66 hits in 156 at bats with 14 doubles, three triples, and 13 home runs with a team-best 49 runs batted in, all from the No. 2 hole in the batting order.

Moreover, the sophomore has stolen eight bases and been caught stealing just once while playing standout defense up the middle.

Pelker recently committed to play ball this fall at Eastern Illinois University.

Whitley catches the first game of doubleheaders and then switches to left field in the second game. 

She is hitting a more-than-respectable .336 with 37 hits in 110 at bats. Whitley has nine doubles, two triples, seven home runs, and 25 RBIs, while also scoring 28 runs and putting together a .422 on-base percentage. 

And there may be no faster catcher in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference as the sophomore has stolen five bases and could win a footrace with almost anyone on her team.

Whitley, who plans to major in graphic design, will continue her softball career this fall at Webster University in St. Louis. 

"Things have really gone well for me this year," Whitley said. "I have learned a lot about the game and life from my coaches (Angie and Bruce Jilek, Rick Ellett, and Eric Heiple). The Logan experience has definitely been a good one for me."

Whitley said she has had to work her way through the ranks to become the starter at catcher.

"I really love catching," she said. "I love being a part of every pitch, every play. And I think it works to my advantage to be a little quicker and more agile. I am able to get to balls in the dirt better, for example."

Whitley said she is also OK with playing the outfield during the second game of a doubleheader because it's what the team needs.

"I'm getting more comfortable out there," she said. "But there's nothing like catching and throwing a runner out trying to steal."

Whitley said that it would be great for the team to excel in the postseason tournament, which gets under way Friday at Olney.

"With all the injuries we have had to work around, it's going to take a great effort to win some games and advance. Everyone has to step up their game and I think we are capable."

Whitley added that she has tried to provide leadership to this year's freshmen.

"I hope I've impressed upon them how important it is to work hard and enjoy what you're doing. I know that I have made a lot of good friends here at Logan and will be taking some great memories with me."

Pelker started out the season in a hitting funk and was eventually dropped to the eighth slot in the batting order. But hard work and perseverance has turned the tide in her favor.

"I have been seeing the ball a lot better the last few weeks," she said. "I try to focus on the pitcher's hip when the ball comes out of her hand. And I have worked hard on my swing. My dad noticed I had been dropping my hands when I swung and now I'm throwing my hands at the ball and going straight to it. That little change has made a big difference."

Pelker said she never lost faith in her ability to hit.

"I admit it was a pretty rough stretch for me, which is why I am so glad things are going so much better for me now."

Better, indeed.

The pride of Nashville has been sizzling of late, belting home runs all over the place, including a pair against Olney last week. 

"I'm just seeing it better and driving it now," she said. 

Defensively, Pelker said she takes pride in her play at shortstop. 

"I've gotten much better from where I was a year ago. I'm charging the ball more."

And like Whitley, Pelker runs very well.

"It's not that I'm getting that many more stolen bases. I just have a better understanding of who around the league has good arms both behind the plate and in the outfield and I take advantage when I can."

Pelker said she, too, has enjoyed her two years at Logan.

"It's been a lot of fun. I believe my time here has prepared me well for the next level."

Pelker said she plans on pursuing a degree in nutrition or diatetics at Eastern Illinois.

“Kat and Kiley are two wonderful young ladies,” said Vols head coach Angie Jilek. “They have been a pleasure to coach and we are so proud of the young women they have become on the field and off.  Both are strong academically and have been a calming influence on all of the younger players. They have done everything asked of them and you can see it has paid off as we have won our 30th game of the season aside from being riddled with more than our share of injuries.”

Jilek said EIU does not know how fortunate it is to get someone like Pelker, and the same holds true for Webster University if that’s where Whitley chooses to go.

“I just hope we can get deep into the postseason for kids like these two.  They have earned it and although we have a tough road to get there, they will be at the front of the line leading the charge ready to do whatever they can to see it through.  They both have bright futures ahead of them.  They have been a blessing and so have their families.”