He knew they were out there and knew they were coming, however Jonathan Alder softball coach Dave McGrew probably didn’t expect this type of impact so quickly.
The Lady Pioneers (22-4) will be making a return trip to the Division II state tournament in Akron this week, the school’s first since advancing to the state championship game in 2014. But this year’s team is doing so in an unconventional way, relying in large part on the contributions of a collection of talented freshmen.
“We knew all about the kids coming up,” McGrew said. “We know all the kids in middle school and even down to fifth and sixth grade. The thing is we thought we had two really good ones coming in and a couple more that could play, but I didn’t expect this much so quickly.”
McGrew said he knew what he was getting in freshmen standouts Emily Walker and Jillian Jakse. Walker, a slick fielding shortstop with all types of speed, and Jakse, a hard-swinging corner infielder who hits for average and power were expected to be contributors and help fill the void of seven starters off of last year’s team being lost to graduation.
But not only have those two been starters and major players, batting in the second and third spots in the batting order all season long, a collection of other first-year players have turned Alder into a state championship threat this season and conceivably for the next few years.
Freshmen Lindsey Potter and Cierra Clark have been solid contributors in the outfield but that wasn’t the case from the very beginning.
“Potter was another kid we knew would probably start as a freshman,” McGrew said. “But Cierra Clark has been the one. She’s the most improved kid. She really worked her tail off, especially defensively. She’s been hot and cold at the plate but she’s come up with some timely hits especially late in the season.”
There are some ups and downs to having so many youngsters playing critical roles. Alder has been able to thrive thanks to some timely lessons being learned throughout the course of the season.
An early-season loss to Central Crossing when some of the varsity veterans were out and a second defeat at the hands of River Valley proved to be areas where McGrew and his coaching staff could really show the youngsters where they needed to get better.
“We struck out 12 times against Central Crossing, but that game showed us what kind of pitching we were going to see in the tournament,” the coach said. “That game kind of got their attention. That was the beginning of the buying in process.”
The second loss of the season to River Valley was the final piece to the puzzle coming together. Alder was shorthanded in the first loss, but everyone was back when it lost for the second time to the Vikings. It was then when a collection of those freshman approached McGrew telling him they wouldn’t lose to them again.
There’s been what the coach calls a complete buy in from that point on. He said the focus and drive have been there for the last third of the season and the results are showing.
“The thing with these young kids is they don’t know what they don’t know,” McGrew said. “They are just a different bunch. Things don’t effect them. They play hard, have fun and that’s it. They don’t spend time worrying about things.”
The other freshman on the roster are Maddy Grove, a speedster being used for her base running ability and Kelsey McDonald, who hasn’t played due to an injury suffered at the end of basketball season.
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.