DECATUR — There is no one more superstitious than a baseball team on a long winning streak.
The same is true for softball teams and as Millikin’s softball squad enjoys a 13-game winning streak, they have embraced some unusual rituals that have become part of the daily routine.
“There are too many to name. There are things we have to do the same every game and they eat that up,” Millikin co-head coach Katie Tenboer said. “They are creating new ones, too, so it’s evolving and it keeps it fun and it keeps it light.”
Millikin’s winning streak began in Arizona at the Tuscon Invitational Games, which gives cold-weather schools an opportunity to get some games under their belt in early March. As the wins stacked up, the Big Blue turned to its surroundings in a scene reminiscent of the film "Major League."
"(Millikin hitting coach Martin Stupak) gave me a pine cone from Arizona and before games I request that everybody holds the pine cone and we are one with the pine cone," infielder Maggie Comerford said. "The pine cone is displayed (in the dugout) before games and that is our good luck icon. We made up a song in Arizona to sing to our bats before every game. We have to do that, we have to sing the song. We are very superstitious."
Another piece of good luck for the team — a lucky ChapStick.
"I had been carrying a ChapStick in my back left pocket that is green jelly bean flavor so we call it 'the green bean' and everybody uses it. We have won with it every time," outfielder Bailey Gowin said. "Once we started winning, we kept it. We have gone through a whole tube and had to get another one."
There are also some more traditional rituals, like a team chant of "we ready" before games and uniforms that are getting a little dirty.
"A lot of us have not washed our visors. Mine is pretty dirty and I’m not going to clean it up for conference play," Comerford said.
The winning streak has launched the Big Blue into the NCAA Division III national rankings — No. 19 in this week's National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll — but big tests are ahead for the team as the CCIW conference schedule begins Saturday in a doubleheader against Wheaton College.
"It is the most difficult part of our schedule and right now it looks like (the conference) will be very tough this year. It looks like it will be as good as it has been in five or six years," Tenboer said.
Millikin had the top record in the CCIW two seasons ago and for the players that remember that experience, the winning streak is a natural continuation.
"I’m honestly not surprised by this team. I knew this was going to be a special season and it's really exciting for us," Comerford, who played at Meridian, said. "The one thing you can’t really teach a team is to have a connection on the field and I think that is something we have that differentiates us from other teams and gives us the extra edge.
"It’s pretty obvious that we’re talented in all aspects, but being able to come together as a team has been really fun and exciting."
The team's pregame song to their bats seems to be working as the team has a combined .384 batting average and eight players are over .375 individually.
"I think our team batting average being .384 is pretty insane. We will see if that can last. It would be outstanding to stay up there," Tenboer said. "Everybody is stepping up and I could pick many batters who are doing great. Kailey Lyons (.523) is more of a bunt-slapper hitter, Kalli Farmer (.375) is a tireless worker. She was out here at 3:30 today and our practice starts at 5 p.m. Maggie Comerford (.413) has stepped up this season and Bailey Gowin (.385) is a machine and leading us in RBIs."
Gowin, who played at Mount Zion, leads the team with 16 RBIs and three triples and thrives on the pressure of having a runner in scoring position.
"I like to be under pressure and I do better when people are on base and I see my teammates and I want to get them home. That’s my job," she said. "Our offense has been pretty strong. We have been executing when we need to and we’ve been putting in a lot of hitting time outside of practice and we have been putting it out on the field."
Millikin's team confidence grew from a 5-4 victory in Arizona against Case Western Reserve University who at the time was the No. 7 team in Division III — not that the Big Blue players were aware.
"We didn’t know that they were ranked but we knew it was going to be tough and we kind of didn’t let that phase us," Comerford said. "We went in guns ahead and that was such a fun win and we were pumped for days after that. That showed us we are a special team and we can do something out of this season."