Derby softball coach Christy Weve knew this season could have its interesting moments.
The Panthers beat Newton and Northwest in the season opener, then lost six of their next eight. Now, they have won 6 of 8, including splitting with Goddard and Salina South.
The losing streak was the toughest part for the Panthers (10-8), who graduated seven seniors — six starters — after qualifying for the 2009 Class 6A tournament.
"Opening night we played really well," Weve said. "Then I don't know what happened. We went on a huge losing streak and had a lot of defensive errors. Defensively is where we've struggled the most. But we've worked a lot of the kinks out."
Derby has freshmen playing at third (Britney Wimberly) and at shortstop (Kennedy Long). They've mixed in well alongside pitchers Kayla Oldham (junior) and Hayley Hume (sophomore), catcher Austen Hilt (junior) and outfielder Tami Tullis (the lone senior).
Oldham and Hume struggled during that stretch of losing.
"I think they felt like they had to do it all themselves because defensively, we weren't backing them," Weve said. "Then you try to overthrow and do too much."
But in the past eight games, Derby has improved.
"We're a different team now than even the first night — offensively, defensively, the whole bit," Weve said. "I think we've grown a ton. I think we can compete with anyone."
A tough stretch — Mulvane (17-1) lost its first game on Thursday, splitting with Andover Central, the defending Class 5A champ.
And Monday, Mulvane plays a doubleheader with Andale, which lost to Andover Central in the 5A title game in 2009.
"We go right into the fire," Mulvane coach Charlie Mason said. "We're looking forward to playing them. They've been one of the top teams in the area for the last few years."
Pitcher Taylor Parsons will be key for Mulvane in containing Andale's deep lineup.
"She's pitching pretty good," Mason said. "She's throwing a lot of pitches. We're facing some of the best people in the state, though."
Mulvane has a strong offense, especially in Taylor Bell, Stephanie Wilson Kyleen Condon and Kelsey Miller.
Losing with errors — Andover Central coach Rita Frakes can trace the Jaguars' four losses to errors. That includes the loss to Mulvane on Thursday.
"We played 13 really great innings, and we had one that just killed us," Frakes said."... One error can bite you, if you don't take care of business."
Andover Central ends its regular season against always-tough Clearwater, which is where Frakes coached before going to the Jaguars.
"It's an emotional one for me and for my kids," Frakes said. "They're pretty defensive of me —'we have to beat Clearwater.' But it's just another game, two more wins we need to have for better seeding at regionals."
Maize recovering — Maize had a week off following its doubleheader at Goddard. And that was probably a good thing.
Maize clinched the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division I title last week by winning the opener, but then lost the nightcap for its first loss.
And then there was the emotional drain on them when Marlene Stein, outfielder Dommi O'Nelio's grandmother, collapsed and was taken to the Wesley Medical Center by ambulance.
Coach Jenny Meirowsky said Stein is making progress.
The players are, too.
"We didn't practice Monday," Meirowsky said. "I wanted to give the girls some time to recoup.... This time of year, sometimes it's hard to stay focused at practice, but they're continuing to be focused."
Maize returned to play Friday night, splitting a doubleheader with Blue Valley West.