Candi Rogers is the envy of many a softball coach heading into the 2020 season.
That’s because the fifth-year Dixon coach has a pair of aces up her sleeve, in the form of sophomores Elle Jarrett and Sam Tourtillott. They were the primary reason the Duchesses went from zero wins in 2018 to 14 in 2019, with Jarrett, who was a 10-game winner, leading the way.
“I’m really excited about them coming back,” Rogers said. “They’ve put in the work in the offseason, they’ve got a little bit more experience, and they’re really showing leadership on the team. I’m excited to see what they can do this year.”
Jarrett and Tourtillott were both starters on a 26-win Dixon basketball team in the winter, but that didn’t stop either of them from getting ready for softball. Jarrett pitched about four times a week, either at home or after basketball practice, to her mother, Lori, a former softball hurler herself.
“She helps me all of the time,” Jarrett said. “She tells me what I’m doing wrong and what I need to fix.”
Tourtillott, meanwhile, ventured over to Westwood in Sterling about three times a week for pitching and/or batting lessons. She also made some trips down south to practice with her club team, the Illinois Force, based in Marion. She noted that team competes nationally.
“I’m ready,” Tourtillott said. “I’ve been excited for softball season all year.”
Jarrett was Dixon’s primary pitcher in 2019, and established herself as one of the best in the area. In 97 1/3 innings in the circle, she posted a 1.08 earned run average and struck out 138 batters. In the offseason, she added about 2 miles per hour to her fastball, and now tops out at about 62 mph.
Speed, however, isn’t necessarily what she’ll be looking for when peering in at the mitt of her new catcher, Mallory Coley, who takes over for the graduated Taryn Munroe.
“I need to be more consistent about throwing to spots,” Jarrett said, “and knowing where to throw to certain batters.”
Tourtillott was a solid No. 2 pitcher for the Duchesses a year ago, with a 2.53 ERA in 58 innings. Her main strength is to keep opposing batters off balance.
“I have multiple pitches, so I can switch it up on the hitters,” Tourtillott said. “I normally get them to hit ground balls to our infielders, so they can field them and throw it to first.”
When Tourtillott is not in the circle, she can be found at shortstop. She prides herself on being a go-to defender.
“Pitching probably has more excitement, but I would say shortstop is my No. 1 position,” Tourtillott said. “I run the infield, it’s my job to talk to the other infielders, and most balls end up coming to me. I like that.”
Jarrett and Tourtillott made their marks as freshmen, and this year, another freshman, Anna-Kate Phillips, figures to make a splash. She’ll pitch some, to give her two sophomore teammates a break, and take over at shortstop when Tourtillott is in the circle. That will allow Jarrett to play some first base when not pitching.
“We’ve got depth in the circle this year, which is a great problem to have,” Rogers said. “We have not had that in the past. It’s exciting.”
The Duchesses made great strides a year ago, improving by 14 wins, but it ended on a sour note in the form of a 2-1 loss to Rochelle in a Rock Falls Regional quarterfinal.
“Our goal is definitely to win a regional and to beat our 14 wins from last year,” Rogers said. “We are a young team this year, but we’ve got talent, and I think that our goals are doable. Those are reachable goals for us.”
Tourtillott and Jarrett just want to win, and let everything else – be it contending in the Big Northern or winning a regional – take care of itself.
“That’s a goal of ours, to go far in the postseason, but really we’re just trying to go a game at a time,” Tourtillott said. “We want to win the first game, and then the next game, and the next game. We’re not really thinking that far ahead. We are working toward that, but our focus is just on the next game.”
“We just want to keep getting better every game and win as many as we can,” Jarrett added.