RHS softbal hosts play date
RUSSELLVILLE — The 2013 softball season ended back in April. The next season starts in February of 2014. But thanks to the growing interest in the sport at all levels of the game, softball teams now have players that participate year round.
Teams will use any available time to practice and increase the skills of the players, and game situations allow coaches and players a different look at what their team has and how much other competitors have been improving during the offseason.
So it should come as no surprise that three local high school softball teams, Russellville, Phil Campbell and Vina, competed in a tournament during a play date at Russellville High School Thursday.
“All of us had been communicating about wanting to get together and play,” said Russellville head coach John Smith.
“We were going to do part of it at Sheffield and then part of it here, but then we had so many teams drop out, we decided just to do it all here.
“Since Vina and Phil Campbell was so close, we moved it to Russellville. It’s a good chance to look at some kids in a game-type situation.
“There’s a big difference between practice and playing in a game.”
Most head coaches will play in such tournaments to give their team a chance at facing opponents other than fellow teammates.
It also gives coaches a chance to see how much their players have improved since the regular season ended.
However, thanks to his short time at Russellville so far, there are still some other challenges besetting Coach Smith.
“I’ve learned most of their first names, but I’m still working on some of the last names,” he said with a laugh.
“I’ve got a good look at them, and we have a good group of girls here. We’ve got to change our focus.
“That’s the only thing they lack right now, how to focus in and get mentally ready to play a tough game.
“They have to keep battling even when they make an error or an out.”
The Lady Bobcats of Phil Campbell are looking to improve after a disappointing end to last season, but in order to do so new players and veterans at new positions must get used to their new responsibilities.
“We fell a little short last year,” said assistant head coach Doug Jackson. “We felt like we should have made it to the regionals.
“We were No. 2 in our area going into the area tournament, and we went two and out.
“This year if we go into the area tournament with the expectation of making the regional tournament, we have the talent this year to make that happen.
“I feel like they can do it, but the girls have to perform. We lost our third baseman and our center fielder.
“We’ve got a junior high player, Alaina Jones, coming up to play the third base position, and she’s going to do well. She did a great on the junior high team.
“We moved our shortstop, Madison Hardy, out to center field, and we moved Elizabeth Benford to shortstop. That’s where she played at East Franklin.
“We feel like those changes will help the middle of the field.
“I see that we need to make a lot of routine plays we’ve let get away today, and we didn’t run the bases well.
“We need to get better at base running and making those routine plays. It’s a good experience to get out here today and work on some things.”
Since Vina High School is one of (if not the) smallest public high school in the state of Alabama, the talent pool from which to make a softball team is considerably smaller than at larger schools.
Still, the Lady Red Devils have been improving over the past couple of years, and second-year head coach Cassie Wisdom has her team picking up some W’s during the regular season.
“They have improved tremendously,” she said. “They’ve gotten much better with their base running and just overall. I’m really proud of them.
“We’re playing against teams that are bigger than us, but I think it’s good for the girls to play different teams.
“It’s good practice for them. The girls wanted to play this summer, so we’re playing.
“They have hung in there and held their own. I expect more wins next season.
“They now know what it’s like to win a few games, so I’m hoping we will win some more games. We’re improving, so I’m hoping for the best.”
Coach Smith may be under the most pressure, as his tenure with Hatton produced unprecedented results for a 2A school.
Now that he is the head coach of the Lady Golden Tigers, many look for him to turn the struggling program into a contender in a tough 5A region.
“They’ve looked very good today,” he said. “We beat ourselves the first game with errors.
“The second game we won. We had some timely hitting and played some good defense in that one.
“I’m looking forward to the next games. It’s been a good day for us as far as me looking at the girls during games.
“It’s hard to say how we’ll do next season. There are a lot of intangible things.
“We’re going to keep working with a weight program and a conditioning program during the fall and summer, and sometimes we lose them in that area.
“When the weather gets cold in January and screws start tightening down the pressure gets on. If we keep what we have, we have an athlete at every position.
“We have pitchers that throw strikes. If we play good, solid defense, then things could fall into place. Winning is contagious, just like losing is contagious.
“If you believe you can win, you’re going to win. If you think you’re going to lose, you’re probably going to lose.
“The mental approach to the game is what we have to correct, because they have the athletic ability.”
All three head coaches and their teams will continue to put in work during the offseason, but only time will tell how the programs will do come February when the regular season gets underway again.