Hello Fastpitch fans,
It's the night before the day of the sectional finals. For 24 teams today marked the last time they will gather to practice for an upcoming game.
For me it was a time to thank seniors and challenge underclass players to practice to win tomorrow. We were fortunate to win 11 times on a day like tomorrow. We also lost eight times on a day like tomorrow.
Once the tourney trail started I'd pencil or ink in the roster on the lineup card and wonder if it would be the last time I'd ever print those senior's name on a card again. In a one-and-done type of tournament the end can suddenly happen. In Poynette yesterday that happened with a bottom of the 9th walk-off home run and it happened in quite a few of the other sectional semi final games as well as a fairly high number of games went to extra innings.
There are a few things that I wish were different in the game though. One is the intentional walk rule whereby it is not a requirement any more to actually throw pitches to put a player on base. Instead a coach just has to tell the umpire, "put her on." It just seems to me that the defensive team should have to earn that right to "put her on" by actually throwing pitches.
In my tenure we never let the other teams' best hitter beat usif we could keep her from doing so. Many times it wasn't even their best hitter but simply a good hitter we didn't think we could take a chance on trying to get out. Over the years we "got burned just twice." One time was in 2002 when we walked the best hitter our arch rival had to load the bases in the 14th inning of a 0-0 game. Our freshman pitcher then unintentionally walked the next batter.
We'd practiced intentionally walking batters so only once did we throw a pitch away and allow a runner to advance or even score. The other time we walked a different team's best hitter with first base open and the next batter drilled one to the outfield to beat us.
In a game in 2007 against Watertown Luther Prep we intentionally walked their tremendous shortstop and hitter with the bases loaded when we held a two run lead. She had doubled and tripled twice in taht game. We put her on with four pitches outside the left hand batter's box. We heard the parents and fans yelling harsh words at us for doing that but we got the next batter to pop up to our pitcher ending the inning, the game, and we celebrated a conference title as a result right after that game.
Kayla Konwent, the All American Badger star out of Westosha Central probably holds records for the most time intentionally walked in high school and college softball. She talked about it this spring in an interview and subsequent article. She said she just thinks that the other team should have to throw pitches to walk somebody. "I have been known to try to hit the ones that are marginally close," she said.
In a state tournament game back in the early 2000s a team had a dynamic pitcher who had walked less than five batters in the entire season but none intentionally. With the game on the line and a imperative situation where the best strategy was an intentional walk, her coach chose to do just that but the pitcher had not practiced that skill and her first pitch went back to the net behind the plate at Goodman Diamond. They lost the state tournament game on that wild pitch. To this day I'm sure their coach feels like the present rule is a good one and I can understand that feeling.
We practiced two things all the time with our pitchers" 1) intentional walks and 2) throwing pitchouts to the pattern we taught. One should never try anything in a high school sport of any kind that you haven't practiced enough to have confidence in a high school player's ability to perform the task well. I once listened to one of the most successful high school football coaches in Wisconsin history tell us at a footbal coaching clinic in 1973 in downtown Minneapolis -- "Fellas," he said, "don't ever try something new in a game. At Ashland High School on Thursday night before a Friday night game that we know we might win, we practiced carrying me off the field on their shoulders to be sure they didn't drop me the next night." That thought has stuck with me throughout my coaching career in all sports. Oh sure, I tried to prove it wrong many times but it always held true."
I could go on about the game and things I'd like to see change but I think one for the night is good enough. Here's wishing all the teams playing tomorrow a great game, full of excitement and may the best or luckiest team win.
See ya at Goodman Diamond!
Keep it Rising!