By Kyle LoJacono
The Sunlake softball team’s last step toward its first postseason berth isn’t physical — it’s mental.
“It is a mental game,” said first-year Seahawks coach Jami Finan. “It’s always mental first. That’s why we’ve focused on working together and teamwork.’”
The 2010 squad went 15-10, but was unable to advance to the regional tournament for the first time for the program. The current version has started the year 11-1, and the squad believes their team mindset has been the key to their success.
“We’re definitely a much closer team,” said senior centerfielder Chloe Fletcher. “We had some problems last year and the best thing to do is learn from those things and we’re just a much better team this year.”
Junior pitcher and second baseman Meghan Durbin agrees.
“We didn’t end last season on a good note,” Meghan said. “We weren’t as connected. I knew we were going to win some games, but against the harder teams, like Mitchell, I wasn’t sure. When we went and beat them on the road that told me we could beat anyone.”
The Seahawks defeated Mitchell 10-0 on March 2, the first time the program had beaten the Mustangs.
Things appear to be headed in the right direction for the Seahawks, but a 11-1 loss in their first game against Pasco (8-2) threatened to derail the season.
“We actually had two rainouts before Pasco, so we should have had a little more practice before we played them,” Finan said. “It was a little shocker, and I think we were a little intimidated by their pitcher (Courtney Brandt). I think it may have been a different story if we had some game action before.”
Brandt is 5-1 with a 0.21 ERA. Sunlake is 0-7 all time against the Pirates.
Since that opening loss, Sunlake has outscored its opponents 122-37.
“I remember our freshman year when people were beating us pretty bad,” said senior shortstop Alex Rogers, the team captain. “I’m pretty sure we got mercy ruled in every game but five that year. This year we’re doing it to other teams and it has a lot to do with team chemistry. Maybe we were intimidated by Pasco’s pitcher in that first game, but no pitcher really intimidates us now.”
Other mental hurdles still stand in the Seahawks way, including River Ridge and last year’s district champion Zephyrhills. Sunlake is 0-4 in its history against the Royal Nights, who were the district runner-up last year. The Seahawks have beaten the Bulldogs in the past, winning two of their seven meetings.
“We can’t think about who we’re playing like, Oh they’re River Ridge or Zephyrhills,” Meghan said. “We have to go in and try and win it like it’s any other game. We don’t have anything to be scared of.”
Finan said team unity has gotten the squad this far, but the batting average and pitching have helped too. Sunlake is currently batting .439 as a team. Fletcher is batting .654 batting, with 15 RBI, 12 runs scored, six steals, three triples and a home run. Sophomore catcher and first baseman Christine Rodhouse is topping the squad with a .692 batting average
“I’ve really found my niche now,” said Fletcher, who has no errors this year. “Last year I did a lot of slapping and I think this year I’ve been able to read the defense more and figure out what’s the best thing to do.”
Fletcher, who has signed to play at the College of Charleston, first moved to the area from Texas as a sophomore. She moved back to Texas to start her senior year, but came back in January after a death in the family.
“It was really hard to move away,” Fletcher said. “We went through a lot last year. I felt like I was missing a great season. It’s good to be back.”
Senior catcher and third baseman Shelley Stohler and Rogers are also both batting better than .500. Stohler is has a .591 average with eight RBI, while Rogers is at .526 with 17 runs scored and 13 RBI.
Junior outfielder Courtney Durbin, Meghan’s twin sister, leads Sunlake with eight steals, while also batting .476 with 22 runs scored, 20 hits, 15 RBI, nine doubles and two triples.
“I know I’m not the fastest runner on the team,” Courtney said. “I just try and stay aggressive. If I have a single, I try and stretch it to a double. If I have a double, I try and stretch it to a triple.”
The Seahawks pitchers Meghan and senior Tyler Riendeau have also been in sync with their catchers.
“I know the pitching and the catchers have been amazing too,” Finan said. “They work very well together. I don’t have to make calls on pitches at all because they work so well together.”
Sunlake next plays at River Ridge on Tuesday, March 22 at 7 p.m.
–All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.