The Lincoln softball team knows it has to improve in several areas of the game. Maybe all areas.
But the Blue Tigers believe they took a step in the right direction - even if the results didn't end in their favor.
"I think we're getting there," Lincoln junior Sam Kircher said after Lindenwood swept the Blue Tigers 15-6 and 7-0 in a Saturday afternoon doubleheader at Lincoln Field. "Obviously we didn't want to lose by that much, but we definitely made some improvements that needed to be made today.
"We've still got a long ways to go."
It just took two big innings for Lindenwood (7-10) to complete the four-game sweep against Lincoln and hand the Blue Tigers (2-15) their 15th straight loss.
The Lions scored six runs in the sixth inning in Game 1, before using a four-run seventh inning to hold off Lincoln in the nightcap.
"Here lately, it seems like we've always had one bad inning that usually kills us," said Kircher, who had three hits on the day, including a grand slam in the opener. "It's been pretty consistent. It doesn't matter which inning, it's just usually one really bad inning."
Lincoln was outhit 30-17 and committed six errors in the twinbill. The Blue Tigers also stranded 17 baserunners - 11 in the nightcap.
But there were some positives.
"We made improvements," Lincoln head coach Nicole Stacey said. "This is the first time we've scored this many runs all season. Overall, our hitting was much better today. We're making contact and that's better than striking out like we have been."
Shantae Duren was 4-for-7 on the day and drove in a run, while Jessica Wolken, Madison Gooden and Kircher each added three hits to lead Lincoln at the plate. Allyson Corry had two hits and drove in a run, while Kassidey Borland added two hits to help pace the Blue Tigers offensively.
Lincoln starting pitcher Alyssa Laudwig limited Lindenwood to three runs and seven hits in the first six innings of Game 2, but the junior right-hander struggled down the stretch.
Laudwig allowed four runs on three hits - including a solo home run - in the top of the seventh inning to give Lindenwood a 7-0 lead and the Blue Tigers couldn't scratch anything across in the bottom of the frame.
"Our pitching hasn't been able to fight through," Stacey said. "Most of the time we can't last seven innings. When they get behind, they can't recover. That's what we're trying to focus on right now."
Laudwig, who also allowed seven runs (four earned) on eight hits and one walk in 22/3 innings in Game 1, had similar thoughts - especially since she is one of two pitchers on the staff.
"I need to finish my game," Laudwig said. "I need to stay mentally and physically strong throughout the whole game. I felt like I got a little tired and I just need to fight through that and not think about it."
Game 1 was back-and-forth for a while, but Lindenwood outscored Lincoln 8-0 in the final three innings to put the run-rule into effect.
The Blue Tigers had nine hits hits in the opener - eight in the first three innings - and committed four errors and surrendered four unearned runs.
"We have to reduce the errors," Kircher said. "Errors are killing us right now."
Lindenwood led 9-6 after the fifth inning and the Lions put the game away with six runs in the top of the sixth. Lindenwood had six hits in the frame, which was capped off by Kendall Ryndak's two-run home run to give the Lions a 15-6 lead.
It appeared they had hit consecutive homers when Diedre Merli's ball cleared the fence, but she was called out at the plate for player interference.
The Lions still finished with two home runs in the opener, including Courtney Opich's solo shot on the second pitch of the game.
Lindenwood scored in every inning, but the Blue Tigers were able to match the Lions in the beginning.
Borland and Kircher had back-to-back hits and Duren followed with an RBI single up the middle to tie the game at 1 in the bottom of the first.
Laudwig recorded two quick outs in the top of the second, but back-to-back errors led to a three-run inning for the Lions.
Kircher gave Lincoln a big boost when she hit a grand slam with two outs to give the Blue Tigers a 5-4 lead.
"I didn't hit very well (Friday), so I figured I'd better step it up today," Kircher said. "I just wanted to hit it. There were three people on base, I had to get somebody in."
Lindenwood responded with three runs on four hits to take a 7-5 lead in the top of the third, but Lincoln got one run back when Corry's RBI single scored Amanda Coffelt from second with two outs.
That's all the Blue Tigers would get the rest of the way.
Lincoln will try to end its skid Tuesday when the Blue Tigers travel to Missouri Southern for a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m.
Stacey believes her team is capable of getting back on the right track.
"We had to go back to basic fundamentals," she said. "Once we clean those up, yeah, we'll have a chance - I've told them that from the beginning.
"Any team that's losing, it's hard to pull yourself out of that rut. We haven't been gaining momentum, and until we clean up the errors, the pitching and our hitting, nothing will change. Once we do that, I think we can play."