Hello Again Fastpitch Fans,
In terms of WIAA softball, things have certainly changed in the 40 seasons that I have been involved with the sport.
Back in the late 70s, 80s and on into the 90s there were not many opportunities for girls to play fastpitch softball unless they were a participant in their high school’s program. There were very few summer leagues, summer tournaments and what are now referred to as Travel Ball Team were really non-existent.
Things started changing in the mid 90s when a few summer tournaments starting popping up here and there but for us they were: “mostly there.” That meant we had to travel "to there." (Poynette did not host a summer girl's fastpitch tournament until 2012). Back in the day, our elementary aged kids traveled to Northern Illinois and bumped into what where then called “all star” teams. Those teams customarily consisted of about 11 girls from two or three schools or communities. In Poynette the first girls to ever travel to those events were in fourth, fifth or sixth grades. Those girls graduated from Poynette in 1997, 1998 and 1999. They were beaten by Richland Center in the sectional final in 1996 (Arrowhead Head Coach Emily Martin played second base on that team). It was a one-run loss. They were beaten at Waunakee in 1997 in the regional final and watched Dale Gray’s Wisconsin Dells team win the sectional. In 1998 those girls defeated a powerful Greendale team that one highly respected Wisconsin coach said about them after losing to them in the sectional final, “Nobody will beat Greendale! Nobody!”
Our girls still call themselves that team called “Nobody” because we scored a come-from-behind win over Luxemburg-Casco in the state semi-final and beat Greendale 4-3 in ten innings, a game where our winning pitcher in that championship game threw just one pitch.
That’s the truth. She threw just one pitch.
We knotted things up late in regulation on an rbi triple that was just off the the left-center field side of the centerfielder’s glove and went to extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth inning, Greendale scratched out a run to pull ahead 3-2. They then had runners on first and third with two outs. Remember now, this was in 1998. With runners on the corners and two outs everybody at Saratoga Softball Complex knew what was coming. Greendale was going to steal second base and get runners to two and three with two outs.
What most of the people at that complex did not know was that the girl stealing second base had no chance of being safe at second if she outright tried to swipe the base. None!
We called time out and made a pitching change. We had two dynamite pitchers on that team. One was a junior and had just pitched the first 9 2/3 innings. The other was a senior. She didn’t have the zip that the junior had but she had C&C (command and control).
In those days and through last season we practiced intentionally walking kids at most of our pitching workouts and we intentionally walked quite a few batters when that strategy gave us a better chance of success than pitching to the batter. We also worked daily on pitching out. Due the difference in the size of the catcher’s box in fastpitch softball compared to baseball, we developed a unique way to deliver and receive that pitch out.
As I approached the pitcher’s circle that day, I told our junior pitcher that we had to make a pitching change based upon the fact that we were going to pitch out and nail the runner at second or get the runner trying for home if she broke for the plate. The senior pitcher threw perfect pitchouts whereas the junior sometimes struggled with the perfect part.
You must also understand that the second sacker who would receive the throw at the bag had the moxie and the arm to get the ball back to plate if that runner coming to second would stop as the runner at three broke for the plate. We’d done it countless times before. As a matter of fact, during a game in Columbus earlier in that season, a Madison TV station caught us on a throw-out from 2-4 and again at the plate on a 4-2 inning ending double play. Anyone watching the Sports on Channel 27 that night saw that play.
In addition to all that stuff we also knew that Greendale was pretty predictable. That’s called having a scouting report and playing your hunches. Earlier in that state championship game we had faced the same situation with runners on the corners and two down. Greendale sent the runner to second but we cut it off short to get the runner at third as she broke for home. The runner stayed put and didn’t break at all.
Down by one with two outs and one of their best hitters coming to the plate, we gambled that the runner at three would stay put and give us a chance to nail the runner stealing second.
I am not sure if Greendale had ever watched us play or had gotten the detailed stuff on what we would do in any given situation but they did what we figured they would do – hold the runner at three and steal the brick at second and give their great hitter a chance to drive in two more and put us down 5-2.
We brought in our senior. I told her what was going to happen on the first pitch. “They’ll send the runner to second and hold the runner at three. Just throw a great pitch out and Darcy will get it to the bag where we’ll tag that runner out and get out of this inning down by one. Then we will go get one or two in the bottom of the inning.”
She took her warm up pitches, toed the pitcher’s plate and threw a perfect pitchout. Our catcher caught it and rifled the ball to the bag at second. A catch and tag ended it. The would-base stealer didn’t have a chance of being safe. The inning was over and we needed just one to tie and a pair to win the state championship.
In 1998 there were three divisions of softball within the WIAA. Private school teams had their own state tournament known as WISAA at that time. Greendale at that time, had the largest enrollment of all Division 2 schools in the state. Poynette had the lowest enrollment of all Division 2 schools in the state. It was sort of a David and Goliath kind of thing, only with high school girls the participants in this particular battle.
In the ensuing bottom of the 10th we managed to get a player aboard on a great at-bat by our second hitter and then another. Then our third sacker, a lefty hitter and a good one, hit a rocket in the gap to right-center that sent both those runners home.
“Nobody” had just won the State Championship.
We celebrated out on that field for just a couple of minutes because it was later than any game had ever lasted at Saratoga. The men’s slowpitch players were arriving for their “picnic ball” league games so the WIAA hurried us off the field (sort of the same kind of deal that now takes place at Goodman Diamond after every game that gets played there).
Many of today’s high school players play dozens and perhaps more than 100 games throughout the course of a calendar year. If we count the high school games along with the summer games, fall games and winter games in the domes they easily play more than 100.
That brings me to the lamenting part of the sub-headline for this Bulletin.
In today’s world it’s really tough to put together a local team to play summer fastpitch games. Dreams and aspirations of fastpitch players becoming collegiate fastpitch players, receiving financial aid from the institution they might play for causes many players to opt out of being part of a local team and then paying to “join up” with Travel Ball team that will practice all winter and maybe even in the fall and play all over the continent.
I see absolutely nothing wrong with that Travel Ball scenario. I am all for people playing as much fastpitch softball as they can get in. I was one of those players who played two games per week in a men’s fastpitch league and played all but one weekend from the last weekend of April through Labor Day Weekend. I drove to LaCrosse and back every Tuesday and Thursday night to play in the LaCrosse Men’s league. I would have played every day. I cherish this game.
As a high school head coach however, I know that I have to provide something for our players that want to play as often as their family situations allow them to play. Not all of our players can afford the costs that go along with fastpitch Travel Ball. Many of our good players just can’t play all those weekends. I had an email Tuesday from a Travel Ball Program director asking me to post a bulletin telling you that they are in dire need of a few players. He told me that it’s getting tougher and tougher to find enough bodies to complete one team in most age groups. “They’ll take anyone who has the money and the time,” he wrote. His lament was that many Travel Ball Programs now field two and some cases, three teams in the same age groups. Two teams would mean 22-25 players and three teams would be 33-36 players.
Don’t get me wrong.
I could care less how many teams any Travel Ball Program fields. It’s really none of my business in any way shape or manner.
Here in Poynette, my issue is taking care of the half dozen girls or so who want to play but are involved in other sports in high school and the summer. As the Head Coach and the leader of our Youth Softball Organization I need to do everything I can to provide an avenue for those girls to play and work on their skills and moxie.
That is my business!
The world changes from day to day. Youth girl’s fastpitch changes at the same pace the world does. How we adjust to worldly and not so worldly changes is about adapting and doing what you have to do to make things work and remain successful.
With that said, our Poynette 16-U summer team is looking for a few players who would be interested in playing one seven inning game on Wednesday nights and in three and maybe four weekend events in the Southern Wisconsin area. The cost is a mere $150 and includes a uniform, a great bat if you don’t’ have one, a helmet if you need one and an opportunity to learn more and more about this game and the most efficient ways to play it.
If interested send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you can expect an immediate response. There are no tryouts. We will coach you up no matter your skill level.
Be sure to check out the announcement today from the Wisconsin Rapids Youth Softball Association about their great summer event in June.
As for changes over the past 40 years, I'll be pointing out many of them over the next few weeks.
To name just one more difference in the sport since I started in 1979 in this essay will be easy. Open Gyms! I have been reading Facebook posts and Twitter posts from many Wisconsin coaches lately about their Open Gyms for softball getting started now. That term wasn't even included in the WIAA rules and guidelines for any sport. Open Gyms did not exist. Now-a-days, providing time in open gyms has actually become a tool for coaching evaluators to use when evaluating coaches. If a coach struggles in the win-loss column and doesn't provide out of season Open Gyms they may be down-graded in the area of "Preparing Athletes to Compete" section of an evaluation.
Have a great fastpitch day, in whatever way you can and …..
Keep it Rising!