One could pardon Cape Central softball head coach Justin Lieser if he gets a little queasy thinking about the 2019 season. As the team journeyed to an 11-14 record, the ride resembled that of a roller coaster, with numerous ups and downs.
After winning the first two games of the season, the team dropped the next two to even their record at 2-2 in the early season. Then, the Tigers won only two of their next 12 games, which featured a seven-game losing streak, and a three-game slide. However, CHS finished the season winning seven of their last nine games which featured winning streaks of four and three games.
“We were able to beat a Final Four team in Incarnate Word Academy, but then would have a poor defensive or pitching effort, and end up dropping a game where one of the two, or both, would cost us,” Coach Lieser reminisced. “We had 96 errors in 25 games….any time you’re giving the opposing team almost four free base runners at the start of any game, it’s bound to beat you, especially against the good teams. We also had a team ERA of 3.88…that needs to improve as well.”
Is it possible to teach consistency? Lieser believes it has to be a choice made by each individual on the team. “Honestly, it starts with mindset and preparation. From the night before by getting enough rest and taking care of school work, to showing up to the ball field striving to become better than before, even if we had a great day yesterday. And that doesn’t just go for the 2019 or 2020 Cape Central softball teams, but every high school sports team! The teams that treat practice as serious as a game, the preparation on a daily basis…when you have players that say, I get to go to practice instead of saying, I have to go to practice. That’s another turning point. From the classroom to the field…for a high school student to be able to turn off daily distractions, and what life is outside of the two hours of practice or a game, especially in today’s world, you have to have a growth mindset…and the ones that do, have success, day in and day out.”
So as the Tigers prepare for this season, ten returning letter winners must shoulder the responsibility of creating that culture. Despite losing Erica Goodin, Aly Hetzel, and Olivia Koch to graduation, Lieser has plenty of familiar faces in the dugout. “I look for all returning letter winners to provide a substantial amount of contributions…offensively, defensively, and in the circle,” Lieser pointed out. Cate Davis and Valerie Greenley look to be forces both offensively and defensively. Davis hit .421 in 2019 with 18 RBI and 20 stolen bases. She was never caught stealing. Greenley provided some power with seven doubles, a triple, and two home runs while hitting .377. It will be good to have a healthy Brooke Witvoet. She managed to appear in just 11 games last season due to injury and illness, yet hit .371 with 11 RBI.
Other returnees include Lizzy Turk (.361), and Kayleigh Turk (.315), along with Keri Williams (.308), Alexis Trickey, Ava Walley, Lauren Hamby, and Ki Bogan. There’s plenty of pitching experience as well, with Williams and Greenley leading the way. Williams was 7-6 last season with a 3.90 ERA and 71 strikeouts. Greenley went 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA. Lizzy Turk also pitched in six games for the Tigers. But those pitchers will fare only as well as their defense allows. As Coach Lieser pointed out, the fielding in 2019 was less than stellar. Thirteen different players committed errors, with three ending the season in double digits, and two others had nine.
But Coach Lieser knows that another year of experience has only helped his squad. “Our depth within the circle, and our veteran battle-tested mentality should give us an advantage in tough situations,” he admitted. “A place that we will be tested throughout the season is our schedule. With having a veteran, battle-tested team, we have increased our number of challenges throughout, in order to compete better come postseason time.”
And Lieser wants to bring focus into every single situation that the girls face once they get to the diamond. “We need to bring a blue-collar attitude and work ethic each day at practice,” he said. “We have to have a bond that is unbreakable, and create a culture of resilience in order to overcome obstacles we will face during the season.”
The Tigers will also see a new coach working with the team this season. “We lost a great assistant coach in Rebecca Peters to a career change,” Lieser pointed out. “We are very excited to have a new assistant coach in Ryan Medlin on staff. He brings a wealth of pitching knowledge, and we look forward to him working with our staff.”
The season is scheduled to get underway on September 1 at home vs. East Carter.