Lakeland Union High School softball has found itself on the wrong end of the scoreboard more often than not this season.
The Thunderbirds have lost six games by 10 runs or more this season, but on Thursday, it was a complete change of pace.
Lakeland hosted Ashland in a non-conference doubleheader and neither game turned out to be close.
The T-Birds blitzed the Oredockers in both outings, first 12-2 and then 15-2.
"It's big because they're in our regional and we may end up hosting them in a playoff game, so it was big to win those two today," LUHS head coach Dean Parris said. "They're struggling with their program right now and we're improving. I told them that 'we've got a job to do today and we're probably a better team than them and we had to do our job' and they did."
Lakeland jumped out early in the first game, getting three runs in the first inning, and then broke things open in the second.
Senior first baseman Anna Pairolero jump-started a big third inning with a two-run double in what turned out to be a seven-run frame, pushing the lead to 10-0.
"Instead of falling behind, if we work ahead and get ahead and score some runs, it gets everybody up, everybody excited and we just can build on that," Parris said. "They did their job. This week we have faced some really fast pitchers and then we faced a slow pitcher, then we went to a really fast pitcher, then a slow pitcher, so the girls had to be really disciplined. To go from really fast to slow, it's hard to do. This was slower and the girls are adjusting."
Starter Tatum Morris only saw three innings of work, notching three strikeouts before Hallie Kalmakoff came in to close things out in the final two.
In the second game, Ashland struck first, taking a 1-0 lead in the second inning as Lakeland went into an offensive lull for a stretch, but the lead didn't last long.
The T-Birds scored 11 runs in the third inning to blow the game open and never looked back.
"We faced [Rachel] Dallman the other day at Tomahawk and she's throwing 55, almost 60 [miles per hour], compared to this girl here that's throwing maybe in the low 40s. That's a huge difference," Parris said. "So the girls have to time the pitches that are incredibly fast and here they have to be patient. They have to wait for the ball to get to them and they just weren't doing that. They wanted to go get the ball, go off their front foot and they'd lose all their ability to use their lower body and we just couldn't hit the ball. Eventually we saw her longer and longer and longer, and we were more patient and more patient and we started hitting the ball harder."
The wins brought Lakeland to 6-13 heading into the weekend.
Wausau East Invitational
Lakeland looked to continue its hot streak during an invitational at Wausau East High School on Saturday, with three games.
The T-Birds managed to post a 2-1 record on the day, defeating Wittenberg-Birnamwood 5-2, then host Wausau East 14-2, before falling to Peshtigo 17-5.
Against Peshtigo, Parris decided to preserve the arm of Morris, and Kalmakoff was unavailable due to her work schedule, so catcher Kallin Lenz volunteered to pitch, despite rarely doing so.
"The first two games were incredible," Parris said. "The girls were awesome. They are playing such good ball, it's even surprising the heck out of me. This isn't the same team as a month ago. Boy, they are really playing good ball. Defensively, there were plays, about four or five, that were incredible and we hit the ball pretty good. I'm really proud of the girls."
Morris allowed just seven hits and four runs, while striking out 11 total in the first two games.
Lenz went 8 for 11 at the plate on the day, including a perfect 5 for 5 against Wittenberg-Birnamwood. Anna Pairolero also had a strong day at the plate, going a combined 5 for 12, with two RBIs against Wittenberg-Birnamwood.
Miranda Menze had five RBIs, including three against Wausau East, while Shantel Pierce also added three in the game.
Lakeland has now won four of its last five games, and the confidence continues to grow.
"I think it started at the Tomahawk game," Parris said. "They're a good team and we battled them 3-2 into the sixth inning and the girls realized we can play with anybody. Then Ashland, even though the competition wasn't up to par compared to Tomahawk, they did their jobs. They knew they were a better team and they gave them confidence. Now we've won four of our last five. The girls are getting really good."
Parris believes his team has a chance to finish the season with 11 or 12 wins, along with earning a home playoff game for the first time in nearly a decade.
The WIAA playoff seeding meeting is scheduled for Monday.
Lakeland (8-14) looks to extend its strong play with a trip to Northland Pines this afternoon at 5 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.