Softball is famous for its chatter, from the incessant chants and rhymes from the dugout to the words of encouragement and strategy among the infielders.
But Niwot junior second-baseman Raven Baca knows that words only go so far. Action is required, and without it, all that talk will be meaningless during games in October.
That is why she and the rest of the Cougars have challenged themselves to do all the little things right this season, and that started long before the first game was ever played.
“We know that you have to work for what you want. Even in practice or during warm-ups before games, we push ourselves and work really hard and try to make no mistakes,” she said. “When we do that, we come out to a game and we look sharp. Our fundamentals are down like they should, we get easy outs and we look like we know what we are doing out there.”
Baca and the rest of the infield has played spectacularly in the early part of the season, committing just one error (and three total for the team) while compiling a 4-1 record. That’s a vast improvement for Niwot, a team that struggled with its fielding a year ago.
Like last year, the Cougars figure to stay close against any team with Nickie Blue doing the pitching.
The junior is a force (offensively, too), but no single player can do it all. And her teammates certainly don’t want to place the burden on Blue. In fact, the infielders have chips on their shoulders after hearing rumors of talk around the area.
“A couple of coaches from other teams have been saying that Niwot is all about Nickie Blue, so the infield around Nickie has challenged itself to show that we are working as a team to accomplish a goal,” senior shortstop Jordan Eutsler said. “We want the ball; we’re ready for the ball.”
In order to fix the biggest issue from last year, Bobby Matthews, who returned to coaching the Cougars after several years at Longmont, went back to basics.
He and the rest of the coaches run through an hour or more of fielding drills, including working without a glove and always finishing the throw.
“Defense is something we work on every day,” he said. “I would say they get between 100 and 150 groundballs in every practice. It doesn’t matter what position they are playing, they all do the same infield drills.
“I think they are trying to prove to Nickie and to everyone else that they are a strong, strong defense.”
Of course, no defense can be perfect. A playable ball or two may slip through the infield, and there will be some errant throws as well.
But this crew understands that part of sporting success comes from having a short memory and moving on to the next play.
“We’ve been working really hard to get every groundball,” Halie Artzer said. “But even if we make an error or a mistake, our goal is to make the next ball better than the last one.”
Confidence has grown with the Cougars’ early success, and not just in the infield.
Blue’s play has been integral. She has recorded 47 strikeouts to just three walks in five games, and she pitched a no-hitter in the first outing of the season. Catcher Taylor Supino has settled into a new role for her senior year, and her leadership and game experience has proved pivotal.
The outfield has made big plays when called upon, and the offense has showed signs of promise (though it has produced only four runs in the past three games).
Another component for clean play and the subsequent victories has been a sense of friendship among the Cougars. The bus rides to away games are fun, and there’s been no outside drama that has spilled over to the games.
“We know each other and we trust each other,” sophomore third-baseman Mikalah Artzer said. “That’s what we need to go forward as a team.”
Brady Delander can be reached at email@example.com.