It hasn’t always been easy for the Central High softball team this year.
Perhaps it might even be more appropriate to say that it’s rarely been easy. For a team that faced six ranked opponents in eight games and spent 19 consecutive games on the road, the phrase “trial by fire” might be an accurate descriptor.
That works out well for the Lady Red Devils (17-5), who, in addition to being ranked No. 9 in Class 6A, start only two seniors. While the team lacks a certain level of experience, coach Bobby Cook said they have risen to the challenge in 2013.
“This season hasn’t been easy for a number of reasons,” Cook said. “We’ve faced adverse situations. We have good talent, but it’s not just talent that wins ballgames. It’s how you mentally approach it, and I think they’ve responded well.”
It’s the 19 straight road games that draws the biggest reaction from the players. Just mention that difficult stretch and they smile and shake their heads.
“It was crazy,” senior outfielder Kirstin Powell said. “It was hectic. Of course, we were tired and just ready to play at home, but we stuck it out. When it was game time, we played.”
There are a handful of reasons the long road trips are difficult, even though they aren’t like the road trips we hear about in professional baseball.
The travel is difficult, for one, as the girls spent hours on a bus traveling to each game. Equally important, though, is the familiarity it lacked with the locations and the people.
“At home, you’re playing in front of people you know, you have your parents in the stands and you just feel more comfortable with where you’re playing,” Kristin Studds said. “That’s all different when you’re playing away.”
And yet, that adversity may have played a large role in helping the team reach the point it is at now.
“We have good team chemistry,” pitcher Allie Kelley said, noting that the long trips likely play a role in helping the team bond. “When you face tough things like that, you have to come together and help each other out.”
“We have a very good mix of personalities,” Kaelen Scott said. “There’s a lot of different ones, but we all click together.”
It’s difficult to have that team chemistry, especially when the team in question loses a number of seniors from the previous year. The Lady Red Devils, however, have carried on without a hitch.
“I think we’ve gained a lot of experience and confidence,” Caitlin Bowman said. “We’re happy to be home, though.”
The confidence was a major factor for the team’s ability to “stick it out,” as Powell said. According to Cook, learning how to mentally approach each practice and game is a major part of the team’s approach.
“We make it a point to practice all the mental things that this game forces you to face,” the coach said. “You have to handle adversity, and you have to control what you can control. We stress refocusing mentally and gaining confidence by thinking about all the times we’ve performed things the right way.”
Going forward, Cook said he’s confident in his team’s ability to carry on what it has already established in first half of the season.
“I can’t pinpoint one area of weakness,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t get better. I think we just need to keep doing what we’re doing. Approach practice every day with the attitude that every player and this team has something it can get better at, and then believe in our preparation when it comes to the games."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.