Groveport Madison High School softball coach Chris Downing can't help but notice the increased strength of senior pitcher Sara Gockenbach.
"She has gotten stronger in both her upper body and lower body and she's pushing off harder and further, which has increased her velocity on the fastball," Downing said. "She's got all of her pitches working well when it's warmer like it was on our spring break (trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) and in a few games here."
Through 16 games, Gockenbach was 13-3 with a 0.81 ERA, 137 strikeouts and 20 walks in 92 innings pitched.
"For some reason, I struggle more than others do with cold weather. Unfortunately, we've had a lot of those games," Gockenbach said. "I lose feeling in my hand (when it's cold) and then it's tough to feel the ball and my release point and my grip isn't as good. I just try to work through it with muscle memory. I can deal with rain better than cold."
Gockenbach credits her daily work, as well as an increased focus on lifting weights, for her added strength.
"I have no offseason and I pitch almost every day in practice or games," she said. "So I barely ever get tired because my arm and legs are used to it. If I'm missing my spots, it's due to a bad release or mechanics, not because I'm physically tired."
The Cruisers were 13-3 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Franklin Heights on April 23. Their losses came against Central Crossing (1-0 on March 31), LaGrange Keystone (2-0 on April 3 in Myrtle Beach) and Watterson (2-1 on April 13).
Last week, Central Crossing was ranked fifth in the Division I state poll and Keystone was the top-ranked team in Division II. Groveport, which was a Division I district finalist each of the past two seasons, was ranked fifth in last week's district poll.
"We're doing pretty well," Gockenbach said. "Our defense has played really, really well. I trust my defense and never, ever doubt them. Offensively, we haven't been consistent. There have been a few games where we put the ball in play and barely have any strikeouts, but we have trouble finding gaps or scoring.
"It seems like when one person finds a gap or gets a timely hit, then everyone relaxes and it gets contagious and we're able to string together hits then. But we have a great lineup and everyone can hit. It's just a matter of doing it consistently."
Through 16 games, MacKenzie Maddy led the Cruisers in batting average (.473) and doubles (8) and had scored 19 runs. She was followed in average by Lanie White (.464), Macy Sporleder (.392), Carsyn Saunders (.366), Ally Maddy (.333), Milan Caldwell (.325), Jodi Kern (.319) and Gockenbach (.300).
White led the team in home runs (4) and runs scored (22) and had five doubles and two triples, and Sporleder and Gockenbach both had two home runs. Kern led the team with 16 RBI, while Sporleder had 15.
"I'm happy with the way we're playing, for the most part," Downing said. "What I am waiting to see, though, is someone step into the verbal leadership role. We've got quite a few seniors and they all lead in one way or another, but nobody has stepped up to take the leadership role that (2017 graduate) Jessie Rock provided the past several years."
Girls track squad wins Kallner meet
Madison Young and Toni Woods led the girls track and field team to a first-place finish in the Elmo Kallner Invitational on April 21 at Hamilton Township.
Young won the 400 meters in 1 minute, 2.64 seconds, Woods won the long jump in 16 feet, 9 1/2 inches and both were on the winning 800 (1:48.29) and 1,600 (4:13.56) relays.
The Cruisers totaled 84 points to hold off runner-up Buckeye Valley (83) in a 13-team field.
Atanna Gunnell and Emily Allen also were on the 800 relay and Chenise Smith and Victoria Williams also were on the 1,600 relay.
Gunnell was runner-up in the 100 (13.27) and joined Smith, Allen and Woods on the second-place 400 relay (51.64), while Isabella Burholt placed second in the high jump (4-8). Placing fourth were Allen in the 200 (27.87) and Melanie Torres in the 3,200 (12:36).
The boys team finished sixth (56.5) in the Elmo Kallner Invitational behind champion Teays Valley (113.5).
Illyaas Haji was runner-up in the 3,200 (10:13.59) and the 400 relay of Kahari Davis, Esco Davis, Tahzmere Givens and Jahlil Underdown placed second (44.53). Placing third were the 800 relay of Kahari Davis, Esco Davis, Givens and Tyrell Floyd (1:33.67), Givens in the 300 hurdles (43.14) and Keimare Burnett in the long jump (19-6 3/4).
Finishing fourth were Underdown in the 100 (11.45) and Peyton Baker in the 1,600 (4:58).
Baseball team exceeds 2017 victory total
The baseball team surpassed last year's win total and remained above .500 when it defeated visiting Newark 7-2 on April 21.
The Cruisers scored two runs in the first inning and tacked on a run in every inning except the second to improve to 8-6 overall and 5-4 in the OCC-Capital before an April 23 home game against Big Walnut.
Groveport finished 7-16 overall last season, including 6-9 in the league.
Luis Pantoja earned the win on the mound, with Daniel Fairchild relieving in the sixth. The Cruisers had defeated host Newark 5-0 on April 18 when Caden Lowe tossed a two-hitter.
Between the wins over the Wildcats, the Cruisers managed just three hits in a 7-1 loss at Big Walnut on April 20.
Below are the coming schedules for the Groveport Madison baseball, softball and boys tennis teams:
*April 27 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester. The Cruisers beat the Indians 10-0 on April 6 and lost to the Indians 2-1 on April 10.
April 28 -- Home vs. Briggs (DH)
*April 30 -- At New Albany. The Cruisers lost to the Eagles 6-1 on April 11 and 9-0 on April 13.
*May 2 -- Home vs. Newark. The Cruisers beat the Wildcats 5-0 on April 21.
*April 27 -- At New Albany. The Cruisers beat the Eagles 11-2 on April 20.
*April 30 -- At Newark. The Cruisers beat the Wildcats 6-5 on April 18.
*May 2 -- Home vs. Big Walnut
April 26 -- At Westerville North
May 1 -- At Whitehall
May 2 -- At Westerville South