The Grain Valley softball team doesn’t need to swing for the knockout blow. The Eagles are fine – and their coach is thrilled – with a much more modest and persistent approach.

The Grain Valley softball team doesn’t need to swing for the knockout blow. The Eagles are fine – and their coach is thrilled – with a much more modest and persistent approach.

In Tuesday’s season-opener against Belton in the Greater Kansas City Suburban Invitational at Adair Park, the Eagles did receive one major jolt courtesy of senior pitcher Sydney Fairfield’s two-run home run, but for the duration of the contest they were content with a just-get-a-piece philosophy.

The strategy worked, as Grain Valley worked Belton pitcher Kelsey Schifferdecker for 113 pitches over 5 1/3 innings and the Eagles secured a 4-0 six-inning victory.

“What I encouraged my girls to do was to have good at-bats,” Grain Valley coach Jim Oliver said. “They did an excellent job of fouling off pitches, making (Schifferdecker) throw a bunch of pitches, and I think that was key especially late in the ballgame.”

In the second game, Grain Valley starter Brooklynne Simbeck received more run support as the Eagles trounced St. Jospeh Central 10-1 in five innings. Sophomore center fielder Taylor Mays finished 3-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored and Kelsi Hill ended 2-for-2.

The Eagles (2-0) spoiled 18 pitches in the first game while the Pirates wasted just six of Fairfield’s. Fairfield manufactured a much more efficient effort in the circle as she tossed 89 pitches, allowed just two hits and surrendered only two walks. The Pirates placed multiple runners on base in just one inning, when they loaded the bases in the final frame before Fairfield coaxed a grounder that she tossed to first for the final out.

“I thought I kind of had a slow start,” said Fairfield, although she allowed only two runners in the first four innings. “But toward the end, me and (catcher Sydney Fry) got all our stuff worked out. It felt really good, really solid. And our defense was awesome. That was a big part of it.”

After Fairfield gave up a leadoff single to start the game, Mays hauled in a running snag that might have saved a run. An inning later, junior left fielder Mikayla Akers made a sliding grab with a runner on second to end the Belton threat.

After the game, Oliver said Frye noted that it was the first time she could remember the team not committing a single error.

“I could trust them,” Fairfield said. “I was comfortable and that’s what I love, when I’m able to just throw to the batters.”

That contrasted Belton’s performance, which included a second-inning miscue that plated Annelise Sack and a wild pitch that brought in Samantha Davis for the Eagles’ first two runs.

“We pulled our heads together and just made contact with the ball,” Akers said. “We were able to work (Schifferdecker). She’s a great pitcher, so to work her up was an outstanding job on our part.”

Oliver said he hopes the squad’s peskiness at the plate and efficiency in the field is indicative of a newfound mental toughness he hoped to instill in the offseason. He admitted that was needed after last season. While Grain Valley finished the year 20-7 and won the Missouri River Valley Conference West, its postseason was curtailed with a 10-7 defeat to Oak Grove in the district championship.

“It was a focus of the coaching staff,” Oliver said. “We didn’t get where we wanted to go last year, so we made sure we at least changed something. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”

There were no wholesale changes, but slight alterations. That’s included shorter but more intense practices with more endurance workouts mixed in. Last year, the Eagles typically practiced 2 1/2 hours. Now, they last no longer than two hours.

They’re also more precise, Oliver said, thanks to the addition of an extra assistant coach. In year’s past, Oliver had just one assistant so the varsity and JV teams worked together, which sliced the amount of time Oliver could spend with each player. Now, with Katie Sorensen and Allison Hieber on staff, practices are split and more efficient.

“I tell them, ‘Hey, if we get going and get focused on what we need to do we’ll get out of here,’” Oliver said. “They like that. They like to get home and put their feet up on the couch.”

It was just one game, but Oliver couldn’t complain about the early results.

“I think coming in our girls feel like they have something to prove,” said Oliver, whose team plays Lee’s Summit at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Adair Park. “I feel like they’re wanting to battle. They’re wanting to win. ... The last three years we’ve lost the first game in this tournament. That was one of our goals this year was to win the first game and make it happen. And we did.”