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Letter: Lessons from a softball diamond
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A hard-fought extra inning varsity softball game was played Wednesday, March 23 as Camden High School hosted McBee High at CHS Stadium. 

The two teams were evenly matched in size, skill level and experience. Both were hungry and ready to play. As in most athletic contests, but especially in this one, there were games, teaching lessons and disciplines within the game.  Both pitchers were throwing in the low to mid 60 MPH range. That pitch from 43 feet reaches the plate at about the same time as an 83 MPH baseball thrown from 63 feet. Both batters have less than a half-second to see the ball and find it with their bat. This requires a lot of practice, a lot of time in the batting cage and the live experience of hundreds of trips to the plate.

From the circle, controlling a fast pitched softball is one of sport’s most difficult skills. Pitchers begin practicing daily, long before the season starts, throwing a minimum of 100 pitches a day and as often as possible with their pitching coach. Their dedication, sacrifice and skills are highlighted on the field, in the circle, and in games like the one played last Wednesday in Camden. 

Pitchers are not out there to throw batting practice for the other team; neither do they want to give up any free passes. Their goal is to put 75 percent, three out of four, of their pitches in or near the strike zone, to vary the location and speed, not become predictable and to keep the other team’s batters off balanced and guessing. At this level of play, their pitches must move as they approach the batter. They can either rise, curve, drop or slide. The last place she wants to throw her pitch is right down the middle. So, she works the edges and corners of the plate.  Also, a well-disguised change-up pitch can become an awesome addition to her arsenal.

At end of regulation (seven innings in high school softball) the score was knotted at two. McBee’s cleanup hitter had taken one downtown in the top of the first that cleared the center field fence by 10 feet. She rattled the fence in the third and hit a hard 6-3 ground out in the fifth. Both teams had hit a triple and a couple of doubles. McBee had reached on several dying quails, i.e., bloopers that just make it over the infielders. There were close plays at first and second and the umpires did use both eyes most of the time. It was a well-officiated game.

If there is anything that could be reviewed, this old coach would like to see the players use their speed more often. Stretching a long single into a double and being allowed to attempt to score when in scoring position at second base on ground balls hit into the outfield. The joy of rounding third in high gear and beating the throw to the plate is as much a part of the game as hitting and fielding, especially at this level. Talk about a boost to self-confidence, not to mention team spirit. Trying to make things happen when you’re out there, adds more fun to an already great sport. 

A fact: The runners have something going for them that at times gets lost in the shuffle.  “More games are won and lost in softball due to throwing errors than any other factor.”

Back to the game: We’re in the top of the eighth, there are two outs, Camden’s Kennedi Stokes has struck out 12 McBee batters. They have a runner on first and their clean-up hitter at the plate. Kennedi has become stronger during the game and wants to pitch to McBee’s best but her pitching-coach intervenes and gives her the intentional walk signal. Kennedi backs off the mound and with her eyes, pleads with her coach. 

No words are spoken, hand signals only.  “Put her on base.” Kennedi complies; throws four balls and in doing so, takes the bat out of the hands of her opponent’s best hitter. She’s in a tied game, in extra innings, has two runners on base and suddenly realizes that batter cannot hurt her or her team anymore and being on base doesn’t matter either. This seldom-used decision at this level and her obedience has temporarily “messed-up the heads” of the opponent’s team. Kennedi knows what she needs to do to get their next batter; she throws a rise ball, the batter pops it up to the infield and Camden comes to the plate in the bottom of the eighth still tied, but with an edge. 

Not yet recovered, McBee’s pitcher walks the first two Camden batters. Upon reaching first base, the lead-off runner was replaced by Madison McNeil, a very fast eighth-grader, who now represents the winning run and quickly advances into scoring position on the second free pass.  A well-executed sacrifice bunt up the first base line advances the runners to second and third. McNeil is 60 feet away. Camden’s Shelby Troublefield steps up to the plate and hits a sac fly to right. Their catcher moves out, stands on the line blocking the plate, awaiting the throw. 

McNeil, on third, tags up. She sprints down the line beating the throw and scoring beautifully executed with her left hand sliding across the plate as she avoided contact with their catcher and Camden wins, 3-2, creating spontaneous shouts of joy.  

A well-played ball game, full of challenges and learning experiences, fun to watch and even more fun for the athletes. I anxiously await the video replay.

This game was broadcast live on WPUB-FM and was video recorded. DVD copies with play by play can be ordered from KM Video Productions, Camden and we always appreciate the Chronicle-Independent’s dedication to KC Youth Sports. 

May I take this opportunity to invite the readers to come out and watch your high school teams play and enjoy their games along with these young athletes. Bring a fold-up or sit in the bleachers. These teams compete for regional and state standings and championships also and would enjoy and appreciate your encouraging them. Several CHS softball players have earned All-State honors over the past 25 years. There is something special about a large gathering of classmates, family and friends cheering their teams on to victory. 

Camden’s baseball and softball fields are side by side.  You can buy one ticket and watch both games. 

CHS softball remaining regular season home game schedule: Darlington - Apr. 6 5 p.m.; DogFest Saturday Apr. 9 11 a.m. vs. Lugoff-Elgin; Dreher - Apr. 14 7:30 pm. and Richland Northeast Apr. 19 7:30 p.m.

Stay tuned.