Imagine this scenario: It’s your senior year, your team is the defending state champion and you absolutely cannot wait to get back on the field and start a new season … and then the weather stops you in your tracks. Cold.
For the softball team at Stillwater High School, that is not a scenario. It is reality. The Ponies won the Class 3A state championship a year ago, lost only three senior starters from that team and were all charged up for 2013. And we know what happened. Snow. Ice. Rain. Games cancelled, schedules disrupted, a season put on hold.
“I wish we could have a re-do,” said senior Hannah Heacox, who threw a no-hitter in last year’s state quarterfinals and was the winning pitcher in all three games at state. “We just deal with what we’re given, I guess.”
Before sunshine and warmer temperatures arrived this week, Stillwater had seen 16 softball dates wiped out by the weather. But the Ponies have saddled up and returned to action in a big way, with games scheduled every day this week. On Monday they beat Woodbury 9-4 in the first game of a doubleheader and Woodbury won the second game 2-0. The Ponies defeated Cretin-Derham Hall 3-0 Tuesday (giving them a record of 7-2) and will meet East Ridge on Wednesday, Forest Lake on Thursday and Cretin-Derham Hall again on Friday.
“As long as we keep good weather, we’ll try to get in as many games as we can,” coach Bob Beedle said. (Pictured are Beedle and Heacox.)
There is indeed a mad dash – in all spring sports -- to play a full schedule of games before the postseason begins. Softball teams can play 20 regular-season games, and getting them all in could be an issue. For Stillwater, the Section 4 tournament will begin on May 20.
“I think this week will probably be the hardest week. It’s every day,” said Ponies senior infielder Haley Balzart. “After this week I’m probably going to be a little tired.”
Playing so many games in such a short time frame means playing doubleheaders, which is not usually the case. Beedle said the players need to maintain their focus in those situations.
“There’s a real mental adjustment they have to make,” he said. “Whether you win or lose the first game, it’s uncommen for them to have to play a second game.”
Heacox said, “It can be like, ‘Oh, we’re done … wait, we have another game to play.’ But I feel like it’s better to get more reps, and being outside helps us so much and just keeps us motivated, not being in the gym.”
Ah yes, the gym. That’s where most spring athletes all over Minnesota have spent day after day. Waiting for the weather to improve, coaches and athletes worked on skills while also trying to inject some fun and avoid boredom. The Ponies did a lot of games and team-bonding activities, and also enjoyed days away from the game.
“We did give kids a day off once in a while,” Beedle said. “I think if you’re pushing too hard, there’s a point of no return in terms of what you’re going to get out of them.
“I think the kids have been real resilient. The first time we got outside we saw a lot of anxiousness and maybe trying to do a little bit more than they needed to do.”
If the weather continues to cooperate, spring teams will be grateful. Even if it means playing a large number of games in a short amount of time.
“We’ll have eight softball games this week and six baseball games this week,” said Stillwater activities director Ricky Michel. “And the funny thing is, if we get this whole week in, then it’s not so bad. We’re getting there.”
--To see a photo gallery from Monday’s Woodbury-Stillwater softball doubleheader, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 624
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(*During the 2012-13 school year)
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