“We know who the favorites are. They know who the favorites are.”
There’s no mystery surrounding what the South Adams Starfires can expect tonight when they travel to Eastside for a shot at a regional title against the Blazers.
Last year’s state champs are one of the most intimidating teams in the area, having won last year’s 2A state title, emerging from a sectional field that included the Starfires and Adams Central last season.
“We are going to play loose and focus on executing on each pitch,” says head coach Jessie O’Dell.
Prepping his team for the game has been a challenge, but O’Dell has been around long enough to know that anything is possible.
The coach says he drew inspiration for Tuesday’s clash from football coach Nick Saban, who once said: “We need to play where our feet are.”
“We can’t worry about the last play or the next play,” he theorized. “We need to stay and play in the moment.”
The Starfires, after all, need to remember just how tough they have been over the past decade. Beginning in 2016, the Starfires have only lost one sectional game, but that loss came at the hands of the Blazers in Butler last season.
“They are legit,” says O’Dell. “They can pitch, run, hit with power and they are excellent at executing the little things. They are versatile and they can have big innings.”
Eastside won that game with 12 runs in the third inning on the way to a 14-2 win. Interestingly enough, the Starfires held Eastside without a run in three of five innings, but it was the big inning that ultimately made the difference.
“On defense, we need to hit our spots on the mound, make the routine plays look routine and make an occasional big play.”
With the same pitchers expected to throw for the Starfires, the team knows the results will have to be different if they hope to pull the upset and win a regional game for the first time since 2017.
The Starfires will have to solve the mystery of Natalie Lower, as well. The Blazer ace was 18-1 last year and has been on fire this year, leading the team to a 28-2 record.
“At the plate, we have to attack,” says the coach. “We can’t watch strikes go by and get behind. When the moment is right, we need to be able to get our small ball going.”
The second inning of last year’s game may hold the key for the team. Macy Pries singled against Lower and Peyton Pries walked, but the Starfires were unable to move either sister over. With Bekah Patterson and her .478 batting average wedged between the Pries sisters, they may have a formula for manufacturing something.
Coach O’Dell knows that the Blazers’ two losses, Huntington North and Leo, prove that his team has a chance.
“It’s no secret how we like to play this year,” he says, “but we have to be able to execute.”
The Blazers won their sectional in two games with a combined score of 34-0.
“Not too many people thought we could win 19 games this season and be in a position to win a regional,” says O’Dell of those who doubted his team this season. “Most of our players said they wanted to win a sectional title during their goals meetings this March. We did that, now we need to believe there is more in the tank for this group.”