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A not-so-focused practice last night, particularly during batting stations. I almost had to make the girls run, but instead reminded them that Catsup was our next opponent, and that we'd have to play our best to beat them, 'cause they sure were going to play their best against us.

I only had 8 girls, so we worked on defensive game situations (with parents and brothers as base runners). Anytime a mental error was made (particularly a player throwing to the wrong base or hesitating because she didn't know what to do), we all did 5 pushups. We had to drop about 5 times for pushups in a 20 minute time span. As I said, the focus just wasn't there today.

We finished up with a scrimmage (4 vs. 4 with brothers/parents playing outfield and catcher) hitting off the tee. Here, the communication and focusing was better, so we at least ended practice on a high note.


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Yesterday was a good practice, if only because I figured out what was wrong with my catcher's (my youngest daughter's) swing. Her swing has looked funky for weeks, but I couldn't put a finger on what was wrong. Turns out that she's loading backwards -- she's loading up as she's striding out, which separates her shoulders from her hips, and introduces bat drag and an upper cut into her swing as her upper body tries to catch up with her lower body. I'm sure we'll get that fixed in a couple of days and she'll be a better hitter.

We only had 6 today, so after batting stations, my assistant coach pitched to them. He pitches slow, but he throws strikes, unlike yours truly who can't throw a strike underhanded if his life depended on it. We're facing slow pitchers this weekend, so all week long we've really focused on waiting on the ball coming into the zone before swinging.

We finished up the week with a game of Over the Line. We've had a bunch of girls out this week because of the flu, including our pitcher, so hopefully we'll be ready to rock and roll on Sunday.


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Good teams find a way to win through adversity.

Most of the girls missed one or more practices this week because of being sick. Not only do we have Swine Flu going around (2 of my girls this week), we have Strep (2 other girls), Pneumonia (1 girl), and just the general flu/cold (at least one other girl) that comes around this time every year. Girls who weren't sick were still missing the practices they normally missed (basketball practice, sewing lessons, cheerleading, etc), or missing practices because they missed too much school because they were sick and had to stay home and do homework.

Even though a lot of girls missed practices this week, everybody showed up for the game, sick or not, which was a relief. Our normal center fielder had to be scratched from the lineup -- she tried to warm up, but was too sick so she just sat in the dugout or on the sidelines with her mom. Our pitcher looked like death warmed-over -- she was still getting over swine flu, but she said she was ready to go. Most of other girls didn't have the same energy they normally have, and you could tell they weren't feeling 100%, but were going to give all they had for the game.

I guess we were lucky. One of the 10U teams had to reschedule their game yesterday because only 5 girls showed up -- everybody else was sick!

It was warm yesterday, about 90 degrees. I normally would have turned on the dugout misters, but with so many girls under the weather, I didn't want them sitting around getting damp. I asked them before the game would they rather play defense out on the field in the sun, or sit in the dugout in the shade and hit? "Hit!" they said, so we said, "Then play good defense so that you aren't out in the sun too long!"

That we did, at least for the first two innings. We were up 7-2 after two innings, and then we hit a wall. We went 3 up and 3 down in the top of the 3rd, so we had to go back out onto the field too soon to give our girls a good rest on the bench, and it showed.

1 out and 4 errors and 5 runs later, and I had to pull my pitcher -- she had nothing left. I got to the pitcher's circle, and she was soaked with sweat, her eyes were glassy, and she was a little wobbly. I put my older daughter in (she'd been fighting a cold all week long and wasn't that thrilled about having to pitch), and she got the final two outs but let in two more runs. I was just thankful to get that third out. My girls were out on the field for 25 minutes!! Yikes!!

We only had 15 minutes left before no-new inning, so I figured this was our last at bat and we were down 7-9. Time-wise, I had to s-l-o-w the game down to give my girls a chance to recharge on the bench in case we had to go on defense again. Fortunately, neither of Catsup's pitchers throw a lot of strikes, so I gave every batter the take sign until they got one strike on them. Our batters usually only got one strike to swing at before they'd walk.

We walked the bases loaded, then walked in two runs, then drove in two, then walked the bases loaded again, then walked in another run before the inning was over. We scored 5 runs in slow motion making the score 12-9, but most importantly, spent 20 minutes in the dugout.

My daughter went back out again, but I could tell she wasn't focused and wasn't feeling good. She walked one batter, who advanced to third on a ball hit to the outfield. Then the next batter drove in their first run of the inning.

I looked at my starting pitcher, who was sitting next to me on the bench. She looked much better now that she was hydrated and had rested. She looked at me, and I could tell she wanted to go back in. I asked her if she could get 3 outs for me, and she said yes. I was worried about sending her back out, but she said she felt better. I looked over at her dad, who was my coaching mentor when I first started coaching, and he was looking at me. I sent her out to the circle -- I figured the game would be over in the next few batters one way or the other anyway.

It turned out, it only took 2 batters to end the game. She struck out the first batter she faced. She then got their lead-off batter to hit a weak come-backer off a nice curve ball. She wheeled and fired to first for the second out but without checking the runner on third. Our first baseman then fired a strike to our catcher a little bit on the first base side of the plate, but our catcher was able to dive across the plate and tag the runner out for the third out and the ball game. Final score 12-10.

What a gutty, gritty performance by the Tiny Titans, especially our starting pitcher. All's I can say is these girls are amazing. I am incredibly proud of them!


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Wednesday was kind of a "good news, bad news" day for the team.

The bad news was that I found out that our starting pitcher was going to be out of town for our double header this weekend. Fortunately, since we have the double header this week, we have the floating pitcher so we should be OK in that respect.

Monday, my clean-up hitter and third baseman said that she was going to miss our double header and all remaining practices because she was being pulled up into the Varsity Cheerleading team for the High School. Great news for her, bad news for the Tiny Titans. But she showed up for practice Wednesday because her Cheerleading practice finished early (good news) and she told me that she might be able to make the second game of our double header (Great news)!

Other Great news was that I had 10 girls at practice, so we were able to get a bunch of good work done. After batting stations, we did infield and worked the outfield separately. I was able to rotate some of my infielders out to the outfield group because we had enough girls to work about 4 different combinations of infielders.

I didn't focus on the outfield, but from what I saw, they were really looking good and working hard (2 parents were out there hitting balls to them). The infield...well...I think it was the best they've ever looked in practice. We only had to drop twice for push-ups because of mental errors, and there were only a few physical errors. It fired me up watching them play so well!

We finished up with the bunting game. I have our floating pitcher (also my Spring season pitcher), plus my older daughter and the 10 year-old that had to miss the first part of the season with a foot problem, as pitchers. All of them got a chance to pitch at least an inning in the bunting game. I have to say, the 10 year old has real potential.

On a side note, I'm concerned about my Spring pitcher. She's 11 (well, actually 12 by now), but as far as I can tell has not improved any since the Spring. Her velocity is the same, and if anything, her control is worse. Not only am I worried about this weekend, but ultimately I'm worried about the Spring and All-Star seasons.

My biggest concern is that she's not enjoying pitching anymore. She's a great player anyway, so if she just wants to be a position player then we need to talk. Hopefully she's just a little burnt out and I can make this weekend fun for her.


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I had to cancel practice on Friday at the last minute. My wife has been really sick with the flu, and had started throwing up Friday afternoon. We figured we should be better safe than sorry and took her to Urgent Care. Fortunately, it's just the flu and not H1N1.

We've got our double header today -- wish us luck!


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I think I've run out of words to describe how well this team plays, how proud of these girls I am, or how amazed I am at how this season is going.

Yes, we won both games of our double header. Again. Our record on double header days is 4-2. The next best team has a 1-1-2 record on double header days. We have seven 10 year olds, two 11 year olds, one 12 year old, and two 13 year olds. Our median age is a full year younger than the other two teams. One of our 10 year olds has never played the game before. Another hasn't played in 3 years. Amazing...Humbling...

I look at these girls, and I love them, but I think "No way can these girls dominate like they have." I'm just glad that I have been along for the ride.


We won our first game 8-5 against the Orange Platypuses. We followed our game plan to a "T" -- we wanted to get out to a big lead, then have our backup pitchers pitch the rest of the game so our starting pitcher was fresh for the second game.

It was 6 to nothing after 3 innings. Better yet, our starting pitcher had only thrown 24 pitches for those 3 innings. Our defense was the best we've played this season. The one hit they got was a ball just out of the sliding reach of our center fielder -- she got a ticket for her effort.

My oldest daughter woke up feeling sick, but she wanted to play anyway. I let her play, but didn't put her in as pitcher when I could. Instead, I put in one of our 10 year olds who had been working with her grandpa on pitching, but had never pitched in a game before. She worked 1 2/3 innings giving up 5 runs (only 2 earned), with 3 strike outs and 2 walks. Definitely a very solid effort. When the tying run got to the plate, I brought our starting pitcher back in, and she struck out their clean-up hitter with 4 pitches.

When we get into "coast" mode, our defense loses its focus a bit. I'll need to figure out a way to keep the girls motivated during "coast" mode before next season starts.


Our second game against Catsup, we weren't quite as sharp -- it was a hot day, and we still have plenty of girls who are under the weather. Still, we played well against a very good team. We jumped out to a 3-1 lead after the first inning, they came back and tied it in the fourth inning 6-6, then we pulled away and won 10-6.

Best yet, our pitcher finished up as sharp as she started the first game. She looked as good as I've seen her all year, so I guess my worrying about her was just a waste of time. Her final line over the two games: 7.1 innings, 87 pitches, 7 strike outs, 0(!) walks, and 6 runs (3 earned).

Just another game day in the Tiny Titans' life.


Realistically, after dropping the first 2 games of the season and not even really being in either game, I was hoping we'd play .500 ball by the end of the season. However, these girls became a completely different team in one week, and started an 8 game unbeaten streak. We went undefeated in the month of October! 6-0! Amazing...

One thing I love about coaching: that we constantly underestimate these kids. They are capable of so much more than we think that they are.


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With the last game of the season coming up, I've asked the girls if they want to play any position that they haven't played yet, and most of the girls have said "Yes". Monday's and Wednesday's practice were mirror images of each other:

Batting stations, then basic infield and outfield drills so that all my new infielders and outfielders can get comfortable in their new positions, then a scrimmage.

Last night was kinda sad for me because it was the last "real" practice of the season. We'll have a fun practice on Friday, then play on Sunday, and that will be the end of the season. I can't believe how quickly it has gone by.

I'm trying to save all my good words for the team until the team party, but I told them last night that of all the teams I have coached, this one exceeded expectations the most. I've had teams that exceeded other teams' expectation of us ("When we looked at your roster, there was no way we thought you'd play so well"), and some teams that exceeded my own expectations.

I told them something to the effect of "I look at you guys, and even I can't believe we've dominated like we have." They responded with "Well, we just have mad skills!"

I am going to miss these girls!


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Well, we had our last practice of the season last night. I *love* this practice, though it is kinda bittersweet as well. Win or lose, softball is my passion (God, Family, Country, Softball) so I know I'm going to go crazy in the off-season. When you're finishing the season with an awesome team that just kicked butt in spite of the odds, well...it sure has been quite a ride.

Last practice is full of fun. After warm-ups, we played Over-the-line for about 20 minutes complete with the good-natured grumbling about me pitching better to one team over the other. Then we played Softball-Football for about 25 minutes.

We had a scary moment when our catcher landed awkwardly after making a leaping catch and twisted her knee a little. She sat out the rest of the game with an icepack on her knee and I took her place (much to the grumbling of the other team). She wasn't limping by the end of practice, so I think she's going to be fine.

Our last activity of the day is why I love the last practice of the season. We sit the girls down in a semi-circle, and then my assistant coach and I talk about each girl individually. We talk about how much they've improved and where, about how they contributed to team chemistry and success, and just generally build them up with a lot of positive comments. Then their team mates chime in with their favorite thing(s) about the player. It is a great way to end the season, and it allows me to personally thank each girl for their effort and play during the season.

Then we had cupcakes, which then turned into a cupcake fight! I had a great time until my youngest daughter walked up to me with icing all over her face and one of the parents said, "She looks like it's her wedding day."

YIKES!! I'm definitely not ready for that yet!


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Well, we lost by 1 yesterday, but we got a lot of girls a chance to play positions they normally wouldn't have played, so that was cool. I am so proud of this team and how much the girls have improved as players this season.

Now it is time for us to recharge our batteries and be ready to rock and roll in the spring!!


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We had our team party yesterday, starting with taking the girls to see a College Softball game.

I'd seen plenty of college softball on TV, but never in person, so I think I was looking forward to our team party more than the girls. I, of course, went a couple of hours early so that I could watch San Diego State (the home team) and Western Arizona CC do their pre-game warm-ups and drills and take notes.

Both teams started their warm-ups about an hour and a half before the game. SDSU's batting stations emphasized the lead arm a lot, and I liked one of the batting stations that WACC did that used tennis balls. I really liked a defensive drill SDSU used to work on backhand and forehand catches, and a short-hop drill.

Being the softball ubergeek that I am, I was a little worried that the parents and even the girls would get bored after a while, but I needn't have worried about that. My girls had a great time, and even the parents thought it was cool watching softball played at such a high level.

The girls were impressed with the speed of the pitching -- how could you not, with speeds around 63 mph per the radar gun. What impressed them even more was that EVERYBODY on both teams threw the ball hard every time they touched the ball. They also heard both teams cheering and doing cheers from the dugout just like they do (or are supposed to do -- we have to stay on them for that).

After the game, we made the trek back home and finished the team party at a local hamburger joint. I handed out team awards:

Silver Slugger: Hannah, our leadoff batter
Rookie of the Year: Kinley, our catcher
Most Improved from Last Season: Lauren, our Center Fielder
Most Improved this Season: Cammi, our right fielder
Coaches Award (Leadership): Kayla, our shortstop
MVP: Cassie, our pitcher

It was nice to say goodbye to the girls one last time and thank the parents for their support.


======

There was one constant complaint in the end-of-season evaluations the players filled out: nobody liked "Running for Punishment".

Now, without going back over this whole journal, I can only think of one time that I stopped practice and made the girls run as a punishment. However, most times when we played a game or scrimmage during practice, the losing team would have to run bases. This wasn't a punishment for losing, but just a means to add higher stakes to the game and put a little bit of pressure on the girls.

Next season, I'm going to have to explain better why we run after games in practice. I probably also need to make punishment for misbehaving different than game stakes for losing so the girls won't confuse the two.


Thanks for reading!


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