JERSEYVILLE — Truth be told, Jerseyville standout pitcher Claire Anderson would rather be somewhere else on the softball diamond.
A terror in the pitching circle of late, Anderson is at her happiest in a defensive posture.
Second base or shortstop, that’s where the crafty junior likes to play.
“I would say I’m more comfortable and confident in the middle of the infield,” Anderson said. “But, I leave it to my coaches – they know where I can contribute the most.”
Anderson has contributed big time on the rubber this season.
In fact, her red-hot streak over the past two weeks has propelled the Panthers to their first regional title in 40 years.
Jerseyville knocked off Columbia 8-1 on Friday in the Class 3A Jerseyville Regional final at American Legion Field.
That triumph, coupled with an impressive 1-0 semifinal-round win over traditional nemesis Highland, sent Anderson and her teammates into uncharted territory.
Jerseyville (24-11) will face Centralia (28-3) in the semifinal round of the Carterville Sectional at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday in downtown Carterville.
Anderson has led the late-season charge with some lights-out work down the stretch.
The right-hander, who is 15-8 with a 2.59 ERA, has allowed just two earned runs over her last 21 2-3 innings for an ERA of 0.64.
Most importantly, she has surrendered just one run in 14 innings while shutting down toughies Highland and Columbia.
Anderson not only propelled her team into the regional final with a four-hit shutout against Highland, but the victory gave the Panthers a much-needed shot of confidence.
“After that, we felt like we can beat anybody,” Anderson says.
Anderson, who is hitting .347 with 16 RBI, began the campaign by alternating starts with sophomore Shelby Koenig. But Anderson took over the top spot once the season wound down and has been unstoppable ever since.
“We are as good as Claire Anderson is,” Jerseyville first-year coach Chelsey Crnokiak said. “When she’s on, we’re on. The defense can feel her energy and they’re going to do everything they can to help her.”
Junior outfielder Lauren Brown says Anderson’s progress has lifted up the entire team.
“She’s the person that makes it all go around,” Brown said.
Anderson struggled at times early in the season. She gave up five earned runs twice in a four-day span against Alton and Waterloo. She also surrendered six runs in a loss to Collinsville on March 21.
But with the season on the line, she has been virtually unhittable with two earned run or less in each of her last five starts.
“She’s come a long way,” senior infielder Brooke Tuttle said. “I can’t say enough good things about her. She's worth so much to our team.”
Jerseyville junior catcher Grace Sharich says Anderson has become more aggressive.
“She just keeps battling no mater what," Sharich said.
Anderson compiled a 9-12 mark with a 4.56 ERA last season after spending her freshman year on the junior varsity level.
She is proud of her recent rapid rise in the circle although she still longs to return to her days as a second baseman or shortstop, which is where she says she would like to possibly play in college.
“For me, it’s just more fun there,” Anderson said.
The Panthers, who have set a school record for most wins in a season, are having plenty of fun these days.
“Their love for the game is what has really propelled us in the post-season,” Crnokiak said. "They love spending time together. There's no amount of practice that is too much. I can't turn them away."
The Panthers will have their hands full against Centralia, which has won its last eight games by a combined 61-15.
But this group is not about to back down.
“I think we all like the way we’ve been playing,” Anderson said. “There’s no reason we can’t keep going.”