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"This team could be really special:" Corneil has high hopes for senior-laden Valparaiso softball

La PORTE -- Like having a pitcher with a perfect game or no-hitter, Tracy Corneil was careful not to talk much about Charlotte Dombrowski's scoreless inning streak Thursday after the Valparaiso senior spun her fourth shutout in as many games on the early season.

"I try not to jinx it," the Vikings coach said.

Dealing with gusty winds that could blow the slightly-built right-hander out of the pitching circle, Dombrowski navigated the blustery conditions at Kesling Park, striking out 11 while allowing three hits over five innings in the 13-0 Duneland Conference drubbing.

"In the first inning, I wasn't expecting it. One wild pitch I threw, I was just falling over," she said. "After that, when I felt a big gust, I stepped back and waited for it to die down so it wouldn't affect me. I just had to be patient."

La Porte stranded five runners in the first two innings. It loaded the bases in the second before Abbey Vergin lined out to first.

"She throws pretty hard," Corneil said. "The pitches she throws normally, you'll get some effect from the wind, but she pushes through that really well. She's been through it. She was pretty good here freshman year, but she has turned not only into an amazing athlete, but a phenomenal person."

The Slicers (4-1, 2-1) had just one batter reach after that.

"I've just been really focusing on my mechanics," Dombrowski said. "When we're practicing, full plate ball movement, not half plate ball movement, having confidence out there that I can do what I do and my team will have my back."

Valpo (4-0, 3-0) broke on top with a two-out, two-run single to right center by Hannah Welch in the second, then made La Porte pay for an ugly defensive third inning, plating seven runs aided by four errors. Marley Nagy's ground singled brought in a pair to cap the uprising and Welch knocked in two more in the fourth.

"We hit the ball all right, don't we?" Corneil said. "You've got to capitalize when the other team gives you stuff and we did."

The defensive collapse was beyond explanation for Slicers coach Ryan Sosinski as none of the errors were a result of the winds.

"We normally don't make a lot of errors. That's usually our strength," he said. "It's just really uncharacteristic. We booted a lot of ground balls. Maybe it was nerves. It was windy. Something affected us. Balance throws the pitcher off, but their pitcher fought through it. It was Murphy's Law. Everything that could go wrong did. Everybody has days like that. It just happened to be against them. We're a lot better than we played."

Valpo didn't need the help, banging out nine hits, but got it with six walks by LP starter Marcy Bearickx in three innings.

"We didn't play up to our potential," Sosinski said. "We just weren't consistent on the mound. We had a lot of great at-bats, plate appearances, then we come back with a walk, strikeout, walk, and then they put one in play and we make an error. We should be able to go all seven (innings) with this team. If they're going to win, it's a three-, four-run ball game. That team's really good. That might be the conference champion. It's between them, Lake Central and Crown Point. They're going to give them a run for their money."

With three four-year players in Dombrowski, Nagy, Paiton Iliff and other experienced seniors in Welch, Bri Shudick and Paige McCorkle, Valpo is geared up for a big spring. Four of them -- Dombrowski (Minnesota-Crookston), Nagy (North Florida), Welch (Indiana State) and McCorkle (Grace) have already signed to play in college.

"We're just trying to get a little bit better each night, trying to get all the gears clicking," Corneil said. "I really feel when they do, we're going to give some teams some real headaches. I like 'em a lot. They work hard, they play hard. They just have to keep working hard, stay together, take the good with the bad. Right now, it's been good. This team could really be special. Unfortunately, last year, it was just a scare. This year, we're looking for the ticket home maybe."

Valpo came within three outs of knocking off Crown Point in the sectional semifinal last year and memories of the seventh-inning rally remain vivid.

"It just pushes you to get better," Dombrowski said. "I feel like losing last year was a good motivator."

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