Schoot to lead new-look Colonials
By DAVID BREIDENBACH, Correspondent
Mar 21, 2013, 12:51
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Last year, the Colonial Heights High School softball team just missed out on qualifying for the Central District tournament, losing a play-in game for the fourth and final spot in the postseason bracket.
This season, despite graduating four seniors from last year’s team, Colonials coach Toni Martin is optimistic that her squad has the right stuff to reverse that shortcoming.
Getting there, however, will not be a “gimme.”
The patchwork team will have to play its very best throughout the season to realize its goal. Specifically, the Colonials will need exceptional play from junior pitcher Ashley Schoot. A second-team all-district performer last season, Schoot threw 142 pitches in the squad’s season opener last Thursday, a 4-3 loss to Group AA powerhouse Powhatan.
“She gives us everything she’s got,” Martin said. “She threw a lot of pitches Thursday but kept us in the game. She got some strikeouts at critical times. She works her tail off, and if we lose her we are going to be in trouble.”
A quick glance at the district frontrunners reveals a common denominator — a pitcher on the mound capable of bringing the heat. That’s the case with the top two teams in the district, Martin said. Dinwiddie and Matoaca both have solid pitching staffs, and that will make a difference as the season progresses.
Another issue for the Colonials this season is the lack of a junior varsity team. Martin said she had 27 players turn out for softball. Of those, six were eighth graders, and Martin said she was told they could only keep two middle schoolers, which cut the total to 23. That would mean a varsity team with 12 players and a JV team with 11.
While that is technically enough to field two teams, the opinion was that the JV group would suffer due to a lack of reserves. “We could have fielded the team with 11, but it would not have been good for them,” Martin said.
Instead, Martin pulled together the best 14 players from the tryout. The team is relatively young, sporting two seniors and a number of freshmen. Against Powhatan, they started three freshmen, including a player Martin says is doing very well in Makenzie Vrooman, who played second base and helped out in the batting lineup.
Martin tabbed Sophie Keene, a fleet-footed left-hander with an aggressive bat, as another promising newcomer. The veteran coach likened Keene to a former Colonials slugger who went on to play at Virginia State University.
“She swings as hard as Savannah Phillingane did, maybe even harder,” Martin said.
Keene, Jessica Ayscue and Savannah Couch will headline the Colonials’ batting order, but beyond that the lineup is not brimming with power.
But what the Colonials lack in clout they compensate for with speed. Given their collective skill set, Martin said playing small ball will be the team’s modus operandi. In softball, it’s not always the home run that prevails, and reaching the green isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if you can manage to lay down a bunt or two.
“We did some great things Thursday,” Martin said. “We ran a suicide squeeze for a run, and we played small ball to manufacture some runs.”
The beauty of small ball, as the saying goes, is that it forces the other team to play defense. Just by putting the ball in play, the batter has four chances to reach base.
If they are quick enough, they can beat the throw. Regardless of foot speed, the opposition will always have three opportunities to make an error. The defense has to field the ball cleanly, throw accurately and catch the ball at first.
The tactic, which has not always been kind to Colonial Heights in the past, puts pressure on the defense to execute with consistency. In an attempt to give her top-heavy lineup more RBI opportunities, Martin plans to strategically place a good bunter at the end of her batting order.
“It’s nice to have speed,” Martin said. “But if you don’t have it, just to know what you’re doing and act like you know what you’re doing is good.”
Still, qualifying for the postseason is as much a test of endurance as it is of skill. The district always features good teams and the length of a season can take a toll on young players.
But with a promising crop of freshmen and some solid senior leadership, Martin is optimistic about the team’s chances this year.
“If we play against the district like we played against Powhatan, we should be OK,” she said. “If we fall off at all, we could have some problems. We are going to have to put out everything we got every night.”