To put it bluntly, statistics, at least when in relation to their players, scare a good amount of coaches. Or perhaps more accurately, many coaches are scared by the possible implications stats can have on their players.
Oftentimes, the worry is that the players will put too much stock in their individual numbers and focus solely on improving or maintaining them, drawing the focus away from the team dynamic and the ultimate goal of winning games.
As a result, many softball coaches guard their stats as if they require a need-to-know safety clearance to view them. Cuthbertson softball coach Jessica Marchand isn’t one of those coaches, however.
“No, the girls love stats!” replied Marchand when asked if she ever shies away from letting her players quantify their progress throughout the season.
“That pushes them.”
Actually, Marchand’s players have made her decision to let them track their stats pretty easy, as the Cavaliers have put together one of the most impressive offensive seasons in the area this spring. As a whole, Cuthbertson has a nearly unfathomable teamwide batting average of .468 to complement its 13-3 record entering the final week of the regular season, which concludes on Friday, April 26 against rival Piedmont.
Of the nine Cavs with at least 35 plate appearances, three are hitting .500 or better; seven have recorded .400 batting averages or higher and none are batting lower than a .317 clip. Of the team’s 453 total at-bats, 212 have resulted in at least a single – and 76 have been for extra bases. That has helped drive in 147 runs. In 16 games, the Cavs are averaging 12.1 runs per outing.
“Even from the get-go, our bats have been strong,” said Marchand. “We have strong girls on the team that can hit the ball, and they’re solid hits.
“I have strong leaders on this team, and they set a great example for all the girls. They work hard at practice, and it shows up during the games.”
Lead-off hitter Mattie Nuccio, the team’s shortstop and main pitcher, has committed to play at the University of Delaware. Nuccio leads the team with a .614 average and 35 hits. Jessica Weber, an Eastern Illinois commit and outfielder, is next at .574 with 31 hits, 20 RBIs and six doubles. Outfielder Paige Barnes is batting .490 with a team-high seven doubles and has a 5-2 record as a pitcher. Catcher Kara Salvo, who has signed with Western Carolina, has a .471 average and leads the team with 31 RBIs, five triples and five home runs.
Infielder Erica Parker is batting .410 with three doubles and three triples, while Kaylee Lamb has a .409 average with 12 RBIs and three doubles. Five of first baseman/catcher Katie Brock’s 18 hits have been doubles to complement her .383 average, and third baseman Melanie Smith has 12 RBIs with a more-than-respectable average of .317.
Marchand also added that catcher/outfielder Haylee Kobziak has been one of the surprises of the season, as the freshman is hitting .457 with 16 hits in 35 at-bats with three
doubles, three triples and a pair of home runs.
Nuccio, who also has an 8-2 mark in the pitcher’s circle with a 1.55 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 13 walks, credited the team’s ability to hit the ball as a reason for the Cavs’ success, but not so much for the obvious reasons. She says it’s because there’s never too much pressure on any one player to get a hit or RBI.
“I think hitting is such a mental game – it’s more mental than physical,” Nuccio said. “We all know we can hit. It’s just a matter of swinging at good pitches or having good at-bats. I think that if you don’t get a hit, if you don get a home run, if you just move the runner over or rely on your teammates to score the runner, it’s not all about the RBIs or the hits. I think we just really hit well as a team. We’re not ‘me’ players; we just play for the team.”
And at some point, said the players, that mind-set became contagious and began to snowball into a season-long hot streak.
“Some of our innings, actually, one person will start out with a (home run) and then everyone else just follows up,” explained Salvo. “It’s definitely contagious, mentality-wise, attitude-wise, everything. Basically, it’s just ‘see the ball, hit the ball.’ That’s how our whole team works.”
Weber said the team also spends a good amount of time communicating in the dugout, picking apart an opposing team’s pitcher – what they’re doing right, what pitches to lay off of, which ones to hop on and analyzing tendencies. That, she noted, helps keep the snowball rolling.
“We communicate a lot in the dugout, and that contributes a lot, too, because we have that knowledge when we go up,” Weber said. “We’re not guessing; we know (what’s coming), and that’s huge.”
Of course, there’s other motivation behind the Cavs’ prolific season, and much of it comes from last season. Though Cuthbertson was one of the Rocky River 1A/2A conference’s best teams in 2012, the Cavs suffered a pair of late-season losses to West Stanly and Forest Hills, which dropped them to fourth place in a league that only receives three automatic bids to the Class 2A state playoffs. As a result, although they finished the year with a 15-8 record, the Cavs missed the postseason.
“That was really bad,” said Barnes. “We all felt embarrassed as a team. I think we took it too light, like we expected to make the playoffs and then, last minute, someone showed us up.”
“I think we all have this hunger and this never-ending urge to always get that extra hit, to always do whatever we need to do at the plate, and in the field as well, to make it (to the playoffs),” she said. “I’m not trying to graduate without a state championship – it’s not going to happen. I think that’s the mentality we have.
“That was frustrating (last season), but I think that gave us a reality check and it gave us more motivation and more determination to come back this year and get the job done.”
That drive to improve on last year has manifested itself in extra work after practice, which Nuccio said is common on the club.
“I think that’s what it takes to be a successful athlete: practicing after practice,” she said.
Granted, with their overall record and an 11-1 mark in conference play thus far, the Cavs certainly are in a better position than they were last year. But to avoid spending another postseason on the bench, the team posted a goal during the preseason to win the league championship, an accomplishment that likely will come down to its final regular-season game against Piedmont this week.
And there’s reason not to take that one lightly, as the Panthers gave the Cavs their one league loss back in late March. In fact, Piedmont seemed to be hurling balls of kryptonite toward the plate, as the Cavs were held to their lowest run total of the year in the 3-2 loss. Piedmont pitcher Christi Pressley mowed down 10 batters, a season-high for Cuthbertson, and allowed just one extra-base hit.
Marchand said the team has been working on its fielding to prepare for the Panthers, who also have an 11-1 record and are adept at playing “small ball” to move their runners around the bases.
And it hasn’t taken much convincing.
“It’s definitely a never-ending drive,” said Weber. “It’s always like, ‘Yeah, we won this game, but Piedmont’s coming up.’ It’s always that extra motivation. Everything about it is motivation.”
And drive like that is very good at putting a few numbers in perspective.