Ottawa High School softball coach Joe Serna is looking at the big picture. His message to his players is to grow every day and become a force by regional time in mid-May.

“That is when we are hoping to be clicking by,” Serna said after Tuesday’s 9-5 and 4-1 losses to Gardner in Ottawa. “You like to get those [wins]. Those will come as long as we keep working hard. They have to believe in that.”

The softball team is going through a transition time with Serna coming over from the baseball program. He is mixing in a different philosophy along with young players.

“It is a big year of change,” Serna said. “We are going to play aggressive. That is our style and that is the way we are going to do it. You have to keep the pressure on the other team.

“We have some players trying to fill some big shoes ... a couple of freshmen. They are going to struggle. Don’t get frustrated.”

Ottawa is showing flashes of playing with top-flight teams, but not for a whole doubleheader.

“We can play with Gardner,” Serna said. “We can play with the No. 1 team in 4A. It is a matter of carrying it over and increasing our softball smartness.

“The first game we dug ourselves a hole and could not get out.”

Ottawa was coming off an 8-7 loss last week to top-ranked De Soto.

“In my mind, we won that game,” he said.

Gardner came out rolling, grabbing a 4-0 lead after the top of the first inning. Gardner’s first two hitters combined for seven of its nine runs.

“Those girls can flat out play the game,” Serna said. “That is what we want to have. That is what we are working on. They are coming around. Let their abilities take over — go play the game — and it will take care of itself. Our defense is better than last year at this point.”

Ottawa settled in after the rough start and pulled within 7-5 after a three-run fifth inning.

Gardner scored twice in the top of the seventh inning.

The nightcap turned into a pitcher’s duel. Ottawa’s Elizabeth Seimears kept Gardner under wraps in her five-inning stint.

Ottawa jumped on top with a run in the bottom of the first inning. Bayleigh Nelson opened the inning by reaching on a dropped third strike. She sped first to third on Hannah Hedges’ sacrifice bunt.

Nelson scored on Kendall Blanco’s RBI double, her second RBI double of the doubleheader.

“When you come out and score first for your pitcher, everything should intensify,” Serna said. “Hitters need to be eager to hit the ball. We are learning that at times. We will get there. We had some bad luck plays.”

Gardner tied it with a run in the second inning. The game remained 1-1 until the fifth when Gardner scored to take a 2-1 lead.

Ottawa received a shot in the arm with the play of freshman Shea Mesik, who made her varsity debut.

She entered the game in the fourth inning at third base. She fielded two grounders on consecutive plays and forced out Gardner runners at second base.

“She made those two plays at third and came in and pitch,” Serna said. “Shea filled a big role.”

Mesik pitched the final two innings.

Ottawa (2-7) is set for a make-up doubleheader today at home against Spring Hill. Ottawa  plays Tuesday at home versus Eudora.