Columbia College softball team covers the field, prepares for Williams Baptist

Friday, April 8, 2011 | 9:49 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Columbia College softball team is ranked No. 22 in the nation and is currently tied for eighth in fielding percentage in the NAIA despite having little time to practice on their own field.

On Friday, the Cougars (17-10) were able to practice on their field, but they had to do a little extra.

With the Columbia College maintenance workers unable to cover the field with a tarp, the team had to call practice early. The softball team became the grounds crew.

“They’re pretty spoiled,” head coach Wendy Spratt said. “Some other teams have to do this all the time but we’ve only had to do it like once or twice.”

Players that had just spent the past hour and a half fielding, throwing and hitting were now lugging around black sacks full of sand and dropping them strategically on the tarp. The sand bags formed an outline of the baseball field to protect the tarp from blowing away, just like the Cougars will take their positions on Saturday to ensure nothing gets past their infield.

Even with the extra work, Friday's practice did end earlier than normal.

“I want you to have legs for tomorrow,” Spratt said to her team.

The practice was short, but efficient. Spratt, bat in hand, sent ground balls, line drives and pop flies to make sure the Cougars knew how to position themselves. They would normally be experts by now, but Spratt said that most of their experience has come from games.

Practice also allows the players to show their fielding prowess. Freshman Marli Hayes quickly shifted to her left and snagged a line drive during the practice.

“Look at that wall over there!” assistant coach Linda Diller said referring to Hayes's stop.

Hayes said that the team wants to prove that their recent drop from No. 12 to No. 22 in the rankings was only temporary.

“We beat No. 4 and almost beat No. 1,” Hayes said. “We know the meaning of this game. We know we can do better.”

But the Cougars will need to prove it, and Saturday gives them that opportunity. The team is set to play Williams Baptist (18-6), the No. 18 team in the nation and the top team in the American Midwest Conference (AMC), in a doubleheader. The first game of the doubleheader is set to start at 1 p.m. at Cougar Softball Field and if the Cougars can take both of the games it would put them at the top of the conference.

There was something lingering during practice, something that Spratt wanted to see.

“Urgency is not what we’re feeling right now,” Spratt said. “The right word is motivated.”

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