Which has improved more at Mount Vernon High School? The softball facilities or the softball program?
Reconstruction to the diamond, shared by the Mustangs and Cornell College, has been estimated at $250,000 considering donated material and labor. The result is one of the nicest facilities in Eastern Iowa.
The overhaul of the softball team? Not nearly as costly, but no less drastic.
Mount Vernon, ranked 10th in Class 3A, improved to 16-2 after winning the 16-team Jesup Invitational last weekend. The Mustangs took an 8-2 Wamac Conference record into their double-header Monday against Solon.
“It’s one of the better teams I’ve had,” said Coach Gary Stamp, who has had his share of quality teams at a number of schools through his lengthy career. “When we’re focused and into the game from the beginning, we’re pretty hard to beat.”
The Mustangs rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to beat Center Point-Urbana, 5-3, in the final at Jesup. Becca Lowe capped a fifth-inning rally with a three-run home run.
Mount Vernon doesn’t have overpowering pitching. With a team averaging seven runs per game, it doesn’t have to. The team sports a batting average of .329, an on-base percentage of .472.
Karly Cochrane, who helped lead Mount Vernon-Lisbon to a state track title less than a month ago, shifted from spikes to cleats and leads the team in hitting at .441. Emily Ryan is batting .408.
Put simply, the Mustangs don’t beat themselves.
“Like Coach tells us, if we do the little things right, big things can happen,” Ryan said.
From the facilities to the win-loss record, Mount Vernon hadn’t been a softball school before the well-traveled Stamp arrived. The program rarely finished above .500 and still has never advanced to the state tournament.
His first mission was to change the mentality. One of his prerequisite to his team before the season: Memorize a poem called “A State of Mind.”
“If you don’t have it memorized, you don’t get a uniform,” Ryan said.
As for the lavish new field, the booster club teamed with Cornell to raise the funds. Other than the lights, the entire field was gutted, then rebuilt.
“It’s the coolest field to play on,” Ryan said. “In past years, we were diving on gravel. We’re very blessed than people in the community care enough about us to give us something like this to play on.”