BUFFALO — The playoff success of the Tri-City/Sangamon Valley softball team largely depends upon the gloves and arms of Ferg and Dale.
Ferg and Dale may sound like cartoon characters, but sophomore catcher Emma "Ferg" Farley and freshman pitcher Daleny "Dale" Chumbley have TCSV (21-1, 7-0 MSM) once again in the hunt heading into the Class 2A postseason.
The Tornadoes advanced to the super-sectionals two seasons ago and are currently on a 96-game winning streak in MSM Conference games and headed for an eighth straight conference title. They're the top seed in the Riverton Regional, which begins next week.
But that was no guarantee entering the season with a team that has three freshmen and two sophomores among its top 10 players.
"Before the season I wasn’t sure," TCSV coach Brad Sturdy said. "I knew we were going to be good, but I didn’t know where we would be.
"But they have gotten better and really learned. Now we feel like we have an opportunity to make a run like we did two years ago."
Chumbley, a southpaw, leads a three-pitcher staff with an 11-1 record, 0.60 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 69 innings pitched.
"I think coming into our program, we’ve always been good so living up to the legacy that other pitchers have left behind and coming in and working hard is very important," Chumbley said. "I was excited to come in and help them out. It is easy to play at a high level when you know people have your back."
Her ascendancy to staff ace was uncertain at the start of the season.
"We didn’t really know, it just kind of happened," Sturdy said. "Daleny came in and I knew that both of our freshman pitchers were really talented — Chumbley and Jordan Closs. Going in we didn’t know who was going to be our No. 1."
The concern about Chumbley was control, but she's walked just six batters in almost 70 innings.
"She has great control and honestly we try to get her to throw less strikes sometimes," Sturdy said. "When it is an 0-2 count, let’s throw a ball here."
Last year's wins leader, Kaitlynn Spain, has continued to excel on the mound as well, with a 7-0 record, but her strong defensive skills give the Tornadoes an advantage when she's in the infield.
"The thing about Kaitlynn is that when she is in the field we are better defensively," Sturdy said. "So that’s what we have been doing and she has handled that very well.
"Daleny and Kaitlynn are a great mix because if you can throw one for three or four innings and bring the other one in, they are a different look — left hand versus right hand; control versus velocity."
Catching all three pitchers is Farley, who provides the Tornadoes with power (a team-leading five home runs) and defense (no errors). Plus, she has a cannon of an arm that has thrown out six base-stealers.
"I love throwing out the runners," Farley said. "We work on it at practice quite a bit and of course having infielders who can catch it and tag them out is great, too."
Farley hits third in the lineup and is joined by seniors Ashlyn Morlock (.396 batting average), Shayla Mills (.423 batting average), Anna Sagle (.444 batting average, 15 stolen bases) and Taylor Page, an All-State third-team selection last year.
"Ashlyn, she hits No. 2 and she’s our catalyst," Sturdy said. "Anna is our lead-off hitter and both are great base runners. We hit Shayla at No. 8 and she is probably the best No. 8 hitter in the state."
A deep playoff run could be in the Tornadoes' future. They should be well-prepared — each regular season game has a playoff feel for the team.
"For some teams when they play us, Coach Sturdy tells us this is their World Series game and they want to beat us," Farley said. "There are some teams that are out to get us. It is inspiring for us more than adding pressure."
Chumbley's pitching may have to carry the team in high-pressure games — something she is looking forward to.
"I started the season so nervous but now I’m just going out there and doing what I do," Chumbley said. "When I step on the plate, I don’t really have nerves. If we play how we can, I know we will go far. I’m very excited and I can’t wait to see what happens."