MACON -- There's more than a handful of reasons it's helpful to have a senior heavy roster.
There's the extra years of play to draw upon, hopefully a more reasoned approach in difficult situations and a resolve to battle to the end.
On Monday, like so many other times so far this season, Meridian softball got all of that with a roster that features just two upperclassmen. The Hawks braced a Shelbyville comeback before unloading late for a 7-3 win at home.
"We're doing OK," Meridian coach Greg Streeval said. "Got a couple big hits out of the freshmen today and got a couple of them starting. Anytime you get contributions from them -- and, the bottom part of our lineup was big today."
The young roster isn't anything new for the Hawks, who started many of the sophomores last year. But now with just Chelsea Getz and Amy Aukamp as the only two players older than a sophomore, there's a bigger burden on their shoulders.
That's particularly true for Aukamp, who now is the ace after Gracie Brookens graduated and now plays at Millikin. The senior mowed through Shelbyville's lineup until the sixth inning where the Rams tagged her for three runs to tie the game.
But her offense gave her some support and Aukamp rebounded in the seventh, needing just seven pitches to retire Shelbyville in order.
"It's definitely different," Aukamp said about being the full-time starter. "I knew last year, our pitcher was going to get most of the starts and I was fine with it. It's kind of -- it's different knowing a lot of it's on my shoulders now, but I like having that type of feeling."
Her changeup was devastating -- "At the beginning," Aukamp was quick to point out. "At the end it was a little shaky." Streeval left the game bullish on her performance.
Aukamp struck out four and forced 10 ground outs. That second part may actually be more key to a solid pitching performance than the first.
"Absolutely," Streeval said if he stresses ground outs. "The bottom line is everybody hits fastballs now. The trick is when the ball's moving. If you have a pitcher that can spin it, that can definitely help you.
"Amy's changeup was good today, it was very, very solid."
Aukamp's working with a newcomer to the roster in Jesse Damery. The freshman catcher showed how valuable she can be after throwing a base-runner out at second before going 2-for-4 at the plate with a couple of RBIs.
Damery said it's been easy jumping straight to varsity behind the plate.
"(Amy's) pretty consistent with her pitching, there's not many wild pitches with her," Damery said.
"I like working with Amy, she's really nice."
Meridian's offense needed to rally in the sixth after Shelbyville's Maddie Holland crushed a home run against the wind to tie the game up 3-3 heading to the bottom of the sixth.
There, Peyton Latham kicked things off with a single before Meridian scored four runs with two outs. Novelee Wiley drove Latham in for the go-ahead run before Emma Jackson and Kaelee Stockton followed behind. Damery drove in the final run with a single up the middle.
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If you're keeping score at home, that's five freshmen and sophomores coming through late in the game to bump Meridian to a 7-2 record.
"I was pleased that we hung in a close game when they had the comeback," Streeval said. "We didn't panic, and had a two-out rally in the last inning."
Rams right there
Shelbyville wields some firepower in its offense, thanks to the likes of Holland and Torre Koontz.
But the addition of freshman Joselyn Lewis really helps round out the order. Not only does she pitch -- and was in a pitcher's duel with Aukamp through four -- she showed off the bat with a monster double to right field.
Lewis appears to have the intangibles as well. After giving up a couple of runs on three hits, she looked frozen in frustration as her teammates came in for a huddle. But by the time fielders went back to their positions, she was already loose and joking with her catcher before getting out of the inning.
I wouldn't be surprised if she's ICA first-team in the near future.
I got it
For a young group, Meridian's defense is impressive.
The loss of Taylor Kirby in center field doesn't sting as much with Kaelee Stockton now roaming there, as she made a diving catch in the top of the fourth.
In the seventh, the sophomore second baseman Wiley made two great plays to help close out the game.
It made for an error-free day for Meridian.
"We've been trying to stress that a lot. The era of 16 strikeouts are gone," Streeval said. "Everybody's going to hit the ball. The ball is going to be put in play and if you can't play defense, you're going to get beat."
Stat of the afternoon
Six of Meridian's seven runs came with two outs.
"(Latham) and Rylie (Casey) both are going to compete, maybe they will until I get ready to retire." -- Streeval, on pitching into the future