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Home » Girls' Softball News

LADY PIRATES STATE 'A' PREVIEW

May 29, 2014
Northwest Montana A Conference



 

2014 State A Softball Preview:

Northwestern A Polson Lady Pirates

w/ cursory commentary on aspects of other State A teams

by John Heglie

 

note to readers:  Readers who may be interested in viewing other presentations about other softball teams entered in the 2014 State A softball tournament are referred to the following:

NWA teams - trio team coverage by Missoulian & NWA conference website; Polson & Libby by Daily InterLake.  Polson by Lake County Leader (29 May 2014 issue). Libby Lady Loggers by Western News.

SWA teams - Missoulian State A preview.  Butte Central Lady Maroons & Anaconda Lady Copperheads also by MT Standard.

Eastern A teams - Billings Central Lady Rams & Laurel Locomotives by Billings Gazette.  Miles City Cowgirls by Miles City Star.  Laurel by Laurel Outlook.

Central A teams - Belgrade Lady Panthers by Belgrade News.   Park Lady Rangers by Livingston Enterprise.  Havre Blue Ponies by Havre Daily News

While more extensive focus is upon immediate coverage area teams, the Missoulian as well as Billings Gazette have tended to provide commentary that touches upon all of the teams entered in the tournament.  There may be other publications of which I am not aware that were not included in this compilation.

 

For the benefit of readers who might wish to skip sections of less interest to them, section headings are provided to enable easier scrolling of the article.

 

RECAP SYNOPSIS OF 2014 SEASON

 

This year’s rendition of the Polson Lady Pirates may not have been able to quite duplicate their enviable 21-1 regular schedule record that they secured last year prior to the tournament, but they nevertheless have fared well this season in posting a 6-2 NWA division mark, 16-3 overall, 19-4 when one incorporates the jamboree format quartet of games played at the 2014 Belgrade “First Pitch” Softball Invitational earlier in the season.   Both division losses came at the hooves of the Frenchtown Lady Broncs, the earlier encounter an unfortunate stompede, the latter engagement much closer within the scope of the capabilities that tend to be exhibited by both squads when they tangle with one another.  The Lady Pirates have been able to manufacture runs against Frenchtown pitching ace Morgan Ray, but in their pair of encounters they have also had difficulty muting the bats of their opponents at the other end of the equation.  Polson has also played a pair of close contests against the fellow division rival Columbia Falls Wildkats early in the schedule, and more recently against the lively lumber of the Libby Lady Loggers in the regular schedule finale for both teams. 

The other pair of losses were sustained against opponents outside the conference.  In a jamboree format game, the Belgrade Lady Panthers swatted the Lady Pirates 5-2 in a four inning clawfest aided by a half dozen fractures in the execution of softball fundamentals by Polson.  How the outcome may have unfolded had both teams played one another an additional trio of innings will have to be left to a matter of speculation.  The other loss the Lady Pirates sustained was to the Hamilton Lady Broncs 12-9 at the Frenchtown Invitational toward the end of April.  In that game, Hamilton mounted a rally from a 9-5 deficit with a slugfest of a 7 run inning to blemish the Polson tournament performance.  Polson had won the first encounter between both these teams 8-3 earlier in April at the inception of the softball season.  So one could say that the next time these two clubs collide, it will be a case of three holds the charm. 

  

2014 POLSON LADY PIRATE SOFTBALL ROSTER

 

TOP-OF-THE-ORDER

Leading off in the batting order and covering behind the plate is three-time all-state, four-time all-conference golfer and softball 10U ASA 2006 state champion, all-state, twice all-conference (1st-tm 13, 2nd-tm 12), dual sport (golf & softball) Carroll College bound senior catcher Jaylin Kenney  (.583 AVG, 36R, 49H, (12)2B, (1)3B, 28RBIs in MHSA 14 || .551AVG, 18R, 43H, (2)2B, (3)3B, 11RBIs in 16U ASA 13) who has engraved her name among a memorable tradition of Lady Pirate catchers and intends to etch some of those grooves a little bit deeper before her prep career winds to a close during these final games of the State A softball tournament.  Kenney keeps a keen focus upon what is transpiring in the various facets of the game around her, an assessment that has routinely presented itself on a number of occasions when she has strategically executed difficult plays at crucial junctures of a contest by making them look seemingly routine, much like she has snuffed crucial runs that could have shaped the outcome of the game in a different direction for her team.  At the offensive end of the spectrum, Jaylin is also adept at getting on base with her slap-bunting capabilities, the most apt illustration coming from her almost unheard of 4-4 performance against Morgan Ray of Frenchtown.  Kenney is among a select group who share a rare collection of prep athletic accomplishments in that she has played a role in two different Polson High School sport three-peats - all three fall seasons as an integral member of a girls golf 3peat (Fall 2011-13) and a pair of spring seasons as part of the Lady Pirate softball 3peat (Spr 2011-12).

 

Batting second is volleyball all-state, twice all-conference (1st-tm 13, 2nd-tm 12) and softball 14U ASA 2011 state champion junior centerfielder Jaiden “Just Do It” Toth (.342 AVG, 26R, 25H, (2)2B, 16RBIs in MHSA 14 || .463AVG, 47R, 63H, (8)2B, (1)3B,  20RBIs over 2 seasons of 16U ASA 12-13), a versatile switch hitter who can slap-bunt from either side of the plate.  Her acceleration out of the batters box tends to heap additional pressure upon defensive fielders to such an extent that often she is able to reach base safely by outsprinting much of the coverage.  Once the fleet feet of this Mercury-like messenger are on board, the mere blink of the eye can sometimes be enough for this speedster to exploit as she to advances her way around the basepath.

 

Wielding a wicked wand in the number three spot like some-kind-of Harry Potter nemesis is basketball all-conference (hm 12-13) and softball 10U ASA 2006 state champion, thrice all-conference 1st-team (if 13, of 12, ut 11), all-tournament (2013) collegiate softball (venue pending) bound senior pitcher Jessica “JiB” Bagnell  (.438 AVG, 30R, 35H, (10)2B, (2)3B, 5HR, 32RBIs in MHSA 14).  When Bagnell establishes a rhythm with her pitching and her swing at the plate gets into a groove, she tends to cause dual consternation for opponents when she redefines her apropos acronym of a nickname by jamming inattentive batters from the mound while launching balls into orbit from the dish as she jettisons them into the blue like a softball version of an astrophysicist repositioning satellites.   This Pirate is capable of pummeling pitching with precision, such as took place at the 2011 State A tournament when she hit 7-9 with multiple extra base hits against some of the best competition on the mound in the state as a mere freshman.  She is on track to achieve somewhat of a softball rarity  the equivalent of a playing card royal flush.  In the event she receives post-season recognition for her efforts from the mound, the ensuing award would round out a collection of all-conference accolades that would encompass her entire prep softball career with acknowledgement as a senior pitcher to coincide with award recognition as a frosh utility player, sophomore outfielder and junior infielder.  

 

MIDDLE-OF-THE-ORDER

Typically batting cleanup is 14U ASA 2011 state champion junior first base infielder Kaelen Wall (.397AVG, 27R, 29H, (2)2B, (2)3B, 4HR, 27RBIs in MHSA 14 || .394AVG, 32R, 43H, (5)2B, (4)3B, 27 RBIs over 2 seasons of 16U ASA 12-13), who exhibits quick reflexes as well as a strong arm for making things happen in a hurry at both the defensive as well as offensive ends of the spectrum.  A small pocket of her reservoir of underlying potential was recently tapped at the Butte “LaVerne Combo” softball invitational tournament, where she went 11-14 for a sparkling .786AVG that included a half dozen extra base hits as well as 15RBIs over the course of a quartet of games.  Tapping into a  mineshaft of such treasures might appear vain to some, but for those of purple & gold persuasion, it could supply Pirate coffers with the kind of booty that would bode well for the overall fortunes of the team. 

 

Deployed at the middle of the order is 10U ASA 2009 state champion as well as all-conference (ut 13) sophomore shortstop Hannah “HP” Potter (.358AVG, 26R, 24H, (4)2B, 3HR, 16RBIs in MHSA 14 || .300AVG, 20R, 21H, (2)2B, 1HR, 12RBIs in 16U ASA 13), a gem of a fielder with fluid moves for intercepting the trajectories of could-have-been hits by absorbing them into her vacuum cleaner of a glove and then throwing out the runner to keep the bag free of cluttering cleats.  Her initials HP provides an acronym that supplies the vehicle for multiple softball associations affiliated with her capabilities.  At one end of the spectrum, the bat Potter wields often packs a hefty punch that sometimes explodes with hammerin potential when she strokes extra base hits. At the other end of the spectrum, the acronym could refer to a penchant for “taking one for the team” when she is hit by a pitch, a category in which she is among the team leaders. 

 

Batting in the sixth slot is 14U ASA 2011 state champion junior third base infielder Taylor Brackey (.373AVG, 18R, 19H, (2)2B, (1)3B, 2HR, 13RBIs in MHSA 14 || .390AVG, 42R, 55H, (13)2B, (1)3B, 1HR, 41 RBIs over 2 seasons of 16U ASA 12-13), who frequently exhibits golden glove quality fielding skills that coincide with a strong throwing arm for erasing potential base runners.  The most recent game against Columbia Falls illustrates her emerging proficiency in this arena, for Brackey initiated a half dozen difficult putouts in that game and would have made a handful of others except that the umpire ruled those foul.  Periodically, Taylor has been known to tee-off on the ball in a manner that could be construed as her “Brack” attack mode, exemplified by the pair of home runs she unleashed off AA Kalispell Glacier pitching.

 

LOWER-THIRD-OF-THE-ORDER

Batting in the seventh position is two-time ASA (10U 2006, 14U 2011) state champion senior outfielder Kyrie Bitterman (.364AVG, 22R, 24H, (5)2B, (1)3B, 12RBIs in MHSA 14 || .409AVG, 24R, 47H, (8)2B, (3)3B, 24RBIs over 2 seasons of 16U ASA 12-13), who tends to turn the mood of some aspiring hitters sour when she turns in a defensive gem with her glove.  A highlight reel-like quality illustration of such defensive capabilities took place earlier this season at Columbia Falls in the bottom of the 4th inning with one out and the bases loaded.  The top of the WildKat order hit a sinking line drive which Bitterman rigorously charged, made an exceptional catch and then relayed the ball to third base to complete a double play that ended the inning and stranded the remaining base runners.   “Clobberin” Kyrie is also quite capable of making clutch contact with her bat to cash in on strategic opportunities.  Other K sounding phonemes include Kyrie’s capability for capitalizing upon cookies when she crushes the ball and knocks in runs.

 

14U ASA 2011 state champion junior utility Sarah Rausch (.229AVG, 14R, 8H, (1)2B, 1HR, 9RBIs in MHSA 14 || 3R, 4H, 3RBIs in limited appearances of 16U ASA 13) provides the Lady Pirate lineup with a versatile player who can adapt at numerous positions as needed.  Rausch is a consistent batter who can place the bat on the ball, but her sharp eye at the plate has also drawn the second highest number of walks on the team.

 

Settting the table in the number nine slot for the top of the order is 14U ASA 2011 state champion sophomore outfielder Lydia Dupuis (.310AVG, 14R, 13H, (1)2B, (1)3B, 8RBIs in MHSA 14 || .281AVG, 12R, 18H, (1)2B, 3RBIs in 16U ASA 13), who is one of the emerging slap bunters who can blend speed with a powerful punch at the plate.

 

AUXILARY PLAYERS

 

Basketball all-conference honorable mention and 14U ASA 2011 state champion junior infielder/outfielder Skyla Krantz (.333AVG, 3R, 8H in MHSA 14 || .417AVG, 31R, 50H, (1)2B, 14RBIs over 2 seasons of 16U ASA 12-13) has a good eye at the plate and quick acceleration on the base path.  A capable fielder with a nice arm, Krantz provides the Lady Pirates with added versatility for covering infield or outfield defensive assignments.

 

Freshman infielder/catcher Ashley Benson (.551AVG, 23R, 27H, (6)2B, (1)3B w/ JV || 9R, 7H, (1)2B, 3RBI in limited V appearances) is an emerging utility asset for the Lady Pirates who has already been deployed at multiple positions this season.

 

10U ASA 2009 state champion junior outfielder Julia Sanderson (.343AVG, 18R, 12H, (1)2B, 1HR w JV || .400AVG, 1R, 2H, 1RBI in limited V action || .300ishAVG, (2)2B, (2)3B in 12 gms 14U ASA 2013) is the kind of Jule with multiple facets who can sparkle in different settings around the diamond. At the plate, Sanderson likes to ca$h in at the scoring register with the ring of cha-ching when she delivers a base hit.

 

10U ASA 2009 state champion junior infielder/outfielder Natalie Slonaker (.282AVG, 14R, 11H, (1)2B w/ JV || 1H, 1RBI in limited V action || .355AVG, 11R, 22H, (5)2B, 12RBIs in 16U ASA 13) can take a bite out of opposition pitching with her bat at the plate as well as cover the bases with a swarm of defensive plays using her glove.

 

Freshman pitcher/infielders Emma Shew (.361AVG, 10R, 13H, (2)2B, (1)3B w/ JV || .364AVG, 2R, 4H, (1)2B, 5RBI in limited V action) and Haley Fyant (.417AVG, 17R, 20H, (3)2B, (1)3B w/ JV | 2R, 1H in limited V action) provide the Lady Pirate lineup with reserve pitching alternatives as well as versatile utility players who can cover multiple positions. 

 

Speech & Debater (State - 5th SOI, Div - 5th OO, 6th SOI) junior outfielder Kania Smith (.500AVG, 1H in limited V action || .319AVG, 9R, 15H, (5)2B, 1HR, 18RBIs in 16U ASA 13) tends to wax eloquent with the kind of defensive glove work that can quickly settle an argument about would-be base running.  But when the other half of the inning rolls around and her turn comes to stand at the plate, Smith tends to let her bat do most of the talking.

 

 

 

 TOURNAMENT OUTLOOK, ANALYSIS AND PROGNOSIS

 

Veteran 27th year head coach Larry Smith and 4th year assistant coach Don Toth embark upon an auspicious task of guiding the 2014 rendition of the Lady Pirates through the turbulent waters of postseason pitfalls in their pursuit of the coveted treasure of championship hardware.  But embarking upon a quest and attaining its fulfillment lie at opposite ends of the spectrum with an uncertain path lying inbetween.  Along the way they must maneuver around a malevolent menagerie of menacing  mascots which include lurking Locomotives, a herd of boisterous bucking Broncs along with predatory Panthers if they are successful in taking the front door approach to hardware haven.  If relegated to climb through the back door with a loss, must master matchups could even entail engaging mischievous Maroons, rambunctious Rams, cagey Cowgirls, rascally Rangers, stealthy serpents, perilous Ponies or even lumber lambasting Loggers.

 

On the forefront of the Lady Pirate agenda will be to tame the train of the (3E) Laurel Lady Locomotives (12-8) and thereby avoid getting derailed by their speeding engine.  If they are successful in their first round rendezvous, then they will be called upon to refamiliarize themselves with roundup resources required to rein in the (1SW) Hamilton Lady Broncs (20-5), a team against which they split their regular schedule engagements with the combined score tabulated from both games tilting the scale slightly in favor of the Lady Pirates 17-15.  Polson coach Larry Smith considers these Lady Broncs to be one of the best defensive teams in the state with marquee players like Taylor “Gogo“ Goligoski at shortstop and Shaylan Mohn at first base alongside the remainder of their posse.  If there were any questions looming about Hamilton vulnerability being linked to the stamina longevity of their pitcher Brie Clifford, those speculations would seem to have been laid to rest after the 29 inning marathon that Clifford pitched in taking the back door approach to capturing the SWA Divisional crown with an inning of relief thrown in by Mohn for good measure.   The winner of the Polson vs Hamilton matchup will tangle with the victor of the (1C) Belgrade Lady Panthers (15-8) and the survivor of the (2SW) Butte Central Lady Maroons (16-8) vs (3NW) Libby Lady Loggers (16-5).  As a top seeded team, Belgrade would be anticipated to emerge from the fracas in part because they have been sharpening their claws on top notch AA competition against whom they posted a 1-2 record, but the latter contests were a close narrow loss and a blowout in their favor.  But seeding at tournament time means very little if a team gets off to a slow start against another carrying momentum.  Both Libby as well as Butte Central can contend with the Panthers.  But first they must emerge from bludgeoning one another with their bats in their first round encounter.  The Lady Loggers have beaten both teams, prevailing 4-0 over the Lady Maroons at an early season quadrangle in Polson and 9-7 over Belgrade at the Frenchtown Invitational.  Butte Central has come up four runs shy of their encounters with both teams, the Panther predicament 8-4 at the Butte softball invitational.  If all-state sophomore pitcher Teresa Piazzola is mended from her ailment for the Lady Maroons, then which team might engage Belgrade has to remain a tossup.  Without the contributions of Piazzola, Butte Central will have to have some players elevate to match the occasion if the team intends to advance another round. 

 

On the upper half of the bracket the favorite to advance to the undefeated semifinal has to be considered the Frenchtown Lady Broncs given the quality of pitching proficiency of their Ohio State bound junior hurler Morgan “No-No Mo” Ray with her growing accumulation of low-hit games with no-hitters that is even supplemented with a 3-0 perfect game against Belgrade this season.   Ray seldom needs much run support to back her up, but her support cast includes a quintet of players who will be going on the extend their athletic careers at the collegiate level - Kayla Blood (2b) along with Vanessa Stavish (1b) in basketball, Josie Anderson (of) in volleyball and Keegan Wickman (3b) as well as Kaylee Prather (c) in softball.  The totals tallied by that type of talent is tough to trump.  But Frenchtown is all too aware of how precarious state tournament games can be.  Last season it took a ball bouncing off an outfielder’s glove and over the fence for a 2 run home run to keep them out of the consolation bracket.  It took a walk-off double in the undefeated semifinal to eek out a 4-3 victory over the contentious Kats from Columbia Falls to secure a place in the championship game.  Finally, during the first championship game against Polson, it took a two out run scoring single to tie the game that would set the stage for another timely hit in extra innings that would deliver the championship over into their gloves.  Frenchtown will await the outcome of the (2E) Miles City Cowgirls (9-9) vs (3C) Havre Blue Ponies (9-10).  This writer has little information to convey regarding this matchup, so readers are referred to area coverage for input as to their capabilities.  But of what little is know, mega gold stars belong to Cowgirl pitcher Lauren Petroff-Wolfe for sheer determination, who periodically treks from Miles City to Missoula to play for the Missoula-based Montana Avalanche club softball team.  One could drive from Polson to Seattle sooner than one could get to Miles City from the site of this years tournament!  The other half of the upper bracket pits the (2C) Park Lady Rangers of Livingston (10-9) against the (3SW) Anaconda Lady Copperheads (13-12), the first round winner drawing the (1E) Billings Central Lady Rams (13-7) in the second round.  Anaconda features catcher Courtney Moodry, one of the top ten hitters in the state with an average hovering just above the .500 mark according to newspaper tabulations.  Livingston features a pair of players hovering around a productive .400-ish average in Sierra Higgs and Meadow Ingram.

 

Several factors would seem to weigh in favor of Polson being productive during the course of this 2014 State A tournament.  If the performance level of the Lady Pirates at the 2014 LaVerne Combo Softball Invitational annually held in Butte mid-May can be used as a barometer for assessment, where the team cumulatively outscored their opposition 55 to 5 on the strength of 63 hits, then Polson would appear to be primed for pummeling the ball.  A cursory review of preceeding Butte “Laverne Combo” performances would seem to reinforce such an assessment.  In 2013 they outscored opponents 56-7 on 57 hits, in 2012 by a margin of 53-6 on 76 hits and 53-14 on 48 hits in 2011.   Each of those preceeding years netted some form of postseason hardware and the figures from this season remain in continuity with those others.  Overall, despite the pair of losses to Frenchtown and its shortfalls against Belgrade as well as Hamilton, Polson holds the edge in overall scoring against its opponents among the quartet of Class A divisions - 66-35 when engaging NWA squads, 57-17 over SWA teams, 26-8 versus Central A opponents and 48-3 entailing Eastern A opposition.

 

Another aspect that carries definite benefits is that the players get to sleep in their own beds, eat home cooking and play on the familiarity of their own home field with a partisan crowd cheering them on.  But the so-called home field advantage can be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.  While the factors mentioned above operate in their favor, playing in the postseason in front of the home crown can saddle the additional weight of unfamiliar pressure upon performances levels that hamper the playing of one’s best softball, the very thing that needs to peak at this time if a team intends to maximize their chances to prevail.  While Polson may have won a trio of state championships on its own home field, they have also failed to even place on two other occasions, the most recent being in 2009 just prior to their three-peat run.

 

Finally, added to these considerations is a widespread recognition that Polson plays in one of the toughest divisions among the Class A ranks, contest clashes that prime each other for postseason play every time one NWA team tangles with the other.  One opinion that has circulated over the past pair of seasons was that a quartet of the top half dozen or so teams around the state were  concentrated in the northwestern side of the Continental Divide.  That assessment would seem to be reinforced by NWA team performances against other teams represented at the 2014 State A tournament in which they hold a 24-2 edge during regular season encounters excluding those in which they played inter-division against on another.  While that statistic is unlikely to bode well for the confidence levels of teams from other divisions outside the NWA enclave, it should be recalled that how teams fared during regular season engagements holds little bearing on the outcome of state tournament tangles.   The spoils of gold, silver or bronze gravitate toward those teams that tend to execute their fundamentals with the greatest level of consistency and play the best softball overall during the course of telescoped tournament tangles, not necessarily to those who sport the beefiest records and most impressive résumés.

 

Since this piece is being penned from the perspective of a Polson persuasion, it is hoped that viewers from other persuasions and allegiances will cut this writer some slack if this analysis culminates with a decided Lady Pirate focus.  Should precarious projections prevail and Polson succeeds in negotiating its way through a trio of tough tangles into the undefeated semifinal, they or whichever other team emerges are more than likely going to be called upon to solve the riddle of the Ray, of which reference is being made to Morgan Ray of Frenchtown and not some kind of geometric exam puzzle.   Excluding the 5-3 loss to AA Missoula Big Sky and the 11-8 victory over Billings Central at the Butte Combo in which Ray did not pitch, of all the teams entered in the State A tournament, it is Polson which has given the champs the greatest difficulties in terms of scoring the most number of runs against them.  Although both games were losses, Polson has scored a combined 9 runs with Ray on the mound.  Granted, not all of those were earned runs, but nevertheless that number happens to be greater than the cumulative sum total of all of the remaining runs scored against her in other class A games on the Frenchtown 2014 schedule in which she was the pitcher of record.  That tabulation falls within the vicinity of a dozen and a half games by comparison if the jamboree format games at Belgrade are also taken into account, a consideration that is almost certainly a cause of equine-oriented concern should Polson and Frenchtown meet one another at any juncture along the way.  But before such a postseason possibility can play itself into existence, both teams would have to take care of business in order to successfully arrive at such a juncture in the tournament.  But in the event such a showdown were to materialize as the bracket begins to narrow, Polson is going to have to plate runs at a rate comparable to what they were able to accomplish during both of their regular season games as well as eliminate those fatal fielding foibles if they want to give themselves a fighting chance to prevail.  No matter which team might emerge victorious from such a postseason encounter possibility, it is entirely within the realms of probability that these two teams could tangle twice if not thrice before the tournament winds to a close.    Having spun such speculation, it is recognized that there are ten other teams playing in the tournament who intend to rain on the reign that these two NWA clubs have enjoyed at the expense of the other competition over the course of the past five seasons with Frenchtown providing the bookends to a Polson threepeat.   Since the year Y2K, only Butte Central (2000), Hamilton (2003) and Laurel (2006) have broken up the eleven time harvest of NWA Division state championship hardware that is vying for its twelfth if a team from another division doesn’t step up to keep that last egg out of the egg carton.  Now that so much verbage has been spewed in an effort to whet the appetites of the viewing audience, lets play some softball and may the best team over the course of the weekend prevail.

 

 

Lady Pirate & Purple Rain statistics provided courtesy of coach Larry Smith

Lady Pirate JV statistics provided courtesy of assistant coach Don Toth

The author is indebted to the coaching staff for input pertaining to less familiar players

Other team statistics derived from Northwestern A Conference website < ihigh.com/nwmta >

 

A SMATTERING OF ADVICE TO HELP MAXIMIZE A POSITIVE SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT EXPERIENCE

 

Last season this author included a rendition of insights thought to be helpful for maximizing one’s chances of having a rewarding state softball tournament experience.  Being aware that there will likely be readers maintaining loyalties to other teams that will be doing some preliminary scouting of others by reading up as much as they can  about a potential opponent, I include these comments with all players in mind.  Advice deemed to have merit for a state champion caliber team is going to be advice by which anyone who implements it will likely benefit.    

 

Having observed the performance of various teams over the course of a couple of state softball tournaments, this observer would like to pass along a few pieces of advice that may prove beneficial to the overall competitiveness of any team.  Much of these observations are somewhat obvious, but good advice often bears repeating.

 

1)  Elevate performance to match the level of your competition.  Batters will face better pitching and superior defenses.   So don’t stress yourself out if the hits don’t come quite as regularly.   Fielders will have to defend against better hitting, which translates into avoiding errors as much as possible as well as minimizing other unearned opportunities that the other team might exploit.  Solution:  Crank things up a few notches.   Mediocre play at this stage of the season is a formula for a short tournament experience. 

 

2)  Minimize what one could term the “deer in the headlights” syndrome which more typically affects first-time participants, but can also negatively influence those who have made the trip to the big stage before.   With interest and attendance levels high as well as the media circulating about to provide more extensive coverage than would be the case during regular season games, there is consequently a lot of energy and excitement about that can blind players from the task before them, namely survive  the game in which they are playing and advance to the next.  Solution:  Focus on the task at hand.   In the case of  the Lady Pirates, who consistently place a substantial portion of their roster on the honor roll, being able to focus as a student of the game of softball shouldn’t pose a problem.  What will be key is sustaining that focus for the duration of each game of the tournament.

 

3)  Don’t seek to over-compensate for the situation you find yourself in.   This scenario becomes particulary prevalent for batters when faced with runners in scoring position at a state tournament game.   Subconsciously a player can psych themselves out at the plate better than the opposing pitcher on the mound.  Often a batter who would be better served to make solid contact by putting the ball into play with good bio-mechanics instead tries to swing for the fences and consequently strikes out.  Otherwise very productive hitters can watch their batting averages plummet a couple of hundred percentage points very quickly when they succumb to the temptation of trying to do too much.  Solution: Relax and do the things that you do best.  A few solid hits are always preferable to could-have-been, would-have-been, should-have-been if-only home runs!

 

4)  Do as well as you can the things that got you to where you are.   The quality of softball that placed your team in the state tournament is the kind of softball you want to build upon as you attempt to extend your season.   If a base-runner isn’t known for their speed at base stealing, the state tournament is probably not the best place to inaugurate their first attempts to do so.  If a batter at the plate hasn’t established some credentials for swinging away in an effort to stroke that extra-base hits during the regular season, the state tournament probably isn’t the place to indulge one’s fantasy of becoming a home run hitter for their team.  

 

Happy hardware hunting and may a few breaks bounce your way as well. 

 

 

SUPPLEMENTAL TIDBITS PERTAINING TO POLSON SOFTBALL PROGRAM

 

It has periodically come to the attention of this writer from conversations with others that there are a fair share of softball programs from around the state that are somewhat curious about whether some sort of a secret formula might lie behind the successes experienced by the Polson softball program or what mechanisms might make the Lady Pirates tick.  Since there seems to be such a level of interest out there in ascertaining what steps might be taken to more closely emulate the program and integrate some of those aspects into their own development strategies, an attempt will be made to identify some of those aspects that have been derived from observing several seasons of Polson softball.

 

1. Player commitment levels - The players themselves approach the game of softball with an elevated level of dedication for learning and executing their craft with maximum efficiency.   Sure, one of the goals of playing a sport is to have fun, but Lady Pirate softball players tend to be more willing to structure that fun within the parameters of attempting to excel at as many aspects of the game as they can.  In the course of observing training practice by other teams over the years, occasions have arisen where a prospective player would be observed walk off the practice field because they were tired, bored, felt they needed a break or whatever.  Such incidents would simply be almost unthinkable at a Lady Pirate practice.  They would tend to “gut it out” so-to-speak, await a seam in the practice regimen to arise and then they would take their micro-break or whatever was felt to be needed at that juncture.  To phrase this aspect in another way, Lady Pirate players come mentally prepared to focus upon the task that is on hand, namely softball.  That focus is reflected in the manner with which they practice and the extra effort as well as dedication many of them put forth to get better at various aspects of the game.

 

2.  Continuity of coaching - Stability in this crucial aspect of the sport is another factor that has contributed to the overall success of th program.  Players from the previous season know what to expect when the following Spring rolls around.  An organized regimen involving various stations that broaden exposure to a variety of potential game scenarios are incorporated into every Lady Pirate practice.  To a large extent, head coach Larry Smith has been doing this somewhat longer than many others from around the state.  The time, dedication and ancillary contributions of both equipment and in player development have been part of an investment strategy he has been unquestionably committed to that has been paying richer dividends as of late much like stocks pay richer proceeds as a reflection of the overall economic health of a corporation.  While various teams over the years have had a varying percentage of their players with their share of power hitting capability, becoming proficient at executing techniques of small ball seems to be a consistent aspect of  his coaching approach that has come in quite handy at different junctures of every season.  Then there are the philosophical aspects of what I might identify as Softball Smithology for lack of a better term.  At times one may overhear snippets of advice being dispensed like what could be paraphrased along the lines of: “there are a lot of variables that can come into play in a game of softball that one doesn’t have much control over, but there are two things that you have absolute control over, namely attitude and effort.”   A  further extension of his philosophical approach has not only been to instill within his players the execution of sound, fundamental softball techniques, but to also take it a step further by teaching them how to win, especially how to prevail in those tightly contested games where the outcome can hang in the balance on account of subtle nuances.  As the years have passed, he has obviously become more proficient at doing so as reflected by the half dozen state championships accrued by Polson since Y2K.  Another aspect of the philosophical approach underlying Softball Smithology that could be identified is that coach Larry is not much of an adherent to what I would describe as the “military drill sergeant” school of coaching.  Practitioners of such a school of thought seem to use tactics more designed to peel back the veneer of psychological skin belonging to either players or umpires to get their point across, a type of bludgeoning approach that seems to forget that even military drill sergeants, after psychologically breaking down their troops, apply the flip side of the coin by building their plebs back up so that they become more effective soldiers.   Players and umpires need not cringe from verbal vitriol spewing from a presentation being made by the Lady Pirate coach.   Smith is committed to a more even keel approach, a balanced blend of knowledgeable while being insistent, firm without being too intimidating.  

 

3. Offseason development  - One could perhaps argue that this aspect could be subsumed under player commitment, but it was felt it merited being differentiated as its own rubric.   There are those softball programs around the state where many of the players haven’t really given much thought to softball prior to the onset of Spring, let alone put forth efforts to gear themselves up for the sport before it is offered.  It can take up to half of a regular season to begin to get into shape, let alone atune oneself to be in synch with one’s teammates.   Much like happens to be the case with the better contending teams in other sports, the Lady Pirate softball season has extensions that reach beyond both ends of its playing schedule.  Preparation commences with involvements at open gyms and weight training as part of a regimen practiced by the more commited players.  These players tend to make extra efforts to whip themselves into shape so they are good to go once the regular season commences.  Another aspect is the summer ASA program which accelerates player development by exposing them to a broad array of softball competition that tends to add the equivalent of seasons of experience to their softball repertoire.  Many of the players on the Polson Lady Pirate varsity team have been involved in softball during the summer ASA season at the 10U, 12U as well as 14U levels prior to reaching high school age.  The 16U ASA Polson Purple Rain team tends to be comprised almost exclusively of high school players from the Polson school system rather than a compilation of all-stars cobbled together from multiple communities.  That is somewhat unique to the summer softball season.  The local players gain seasons of experience playing with one another against stiffer competition than they would ordinarily encounter during the Spring high school athletic season.  Skills are honed, familiarity between players develops and that boosts the quality level of their play that emerges during the Spring softball season.  So the summer program is somewhat similar to a major league baseball farm system where players periodically get called up to the BIGS when their contributions can hold their own at the next level.  

 

4.  Community support - A final aspect which has contributed to the overall success of the Polson softball program belongs to the Polson community itself.  The Polson fourplex playing fields where the Lady Pirates play, which have now hosted the State A Tournament on five occasions (01, 02, 05, 07, 09) since year Y2K, emerged at the grass roots level when players, their parents and other supporters among the broader community realized that the Lady Pirate high school team needed a place that they could call their own.  In conversations with the coach about the early years, it was not uncommon for the team to have to hold its practices at multiple venues during the course of a single week due to scheduling conflicts and competition for limited venues.  A coalition of concern community members identified a suitable centralized site, contributed time, effort, labor and materials to establish the present facility much in the way it currently exists.  In terms of originating a softball venue, the history behind the development of the Polson Fourplex site is somewhat unique in comparision to others around the state.  It originated at the grass roots level and as a consequence continues to draw extensive support from the surrounding community because it is something of their own creation.  While one might empathize with the rationale behind why a pair of former assistant coaches felt prompted to initiate a suit against a school district regarding the alleged deplorable conditions of a softball field where the team they once coached held its practices, such a drastic measure would have been completely foreign to the Polson experience.   Field conditions at both venues may have been somewhat similar at one time, but the response level that emerged has been quite different in that the community itself got involved.  From this perspective, the manner in which what needed to be done was addressed tends to be much more conducive to facilitating continued support within the community in the long run and a contributing factor as to why the Polson softball program has experiences so much recent success.

 

In summary of the preceeding aspects that have been identified, the reader can see that not that much mystery or mystique would seem to revolve around the recent successes of the Polson Lady Pirates.  Each factor contributes to the blend.   The closest analogy that might be drawn would be to that of an orchard and its caretaker.  Coach Smith has been planting, pruning, fertilizing and cultivating young saplings since the late 80’s and more substantial fruit did not begin to emerge on the branches until the trees grew sufficiently and reached maturity.  It was only then that some produce began to appear  with greater regularity and had ripened to such an extent that a harvest could commence.  Other communities which might wish to emulate this model need to have an extended commitment to the development of a program.   In an age tainted by instant gratification and influenced by a fast-food mentality of acquiring a ready-made meal quickly, programs which desire to emulate the Polson softball program would be advised to hitch their trailer cars to a train that is going to be in it for the long haul.

 

 

 


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