JACKSON TWP. High school softball is a game built on speed.
The condensed nature of the diamond and the prevalence of slap hitters, bunts, stolen bases and a pitching rubber just 40 feet from home plate makes being fast a valuable quality.
For the Jackson Polar Bears, the hope is that a good supply of team speed translates into wins on the field under new head coach Stacy Patterson. Patterson, who came to Jackson after coaching at Sunrise Mountain High School in Las Vegas the past six years, believes her new team can utilize its speed in productive ways.
“One of our biggest strengths is our speed. From one to nine in the lineup, we have girls that can get to first in under three seconds,” Patterson said. “Small ball will be a great attribute to our season.”
Speed will be important, as will be getting up to speed. Not only does Patterson have to learn her new team and the local softball scene, but the team itself has to learn how to play and play together at the varsity level.
The team returns two starters and three letterwinners from last season, so despite a large group of seniors on the roster, there isn’t an abundance of varsity experience.
With much of the roster comprised by freshmen and sophomores, Jackson is working on gaining valuable experience while also finding a way to compete in the early weeks of the season. Patterson likes the team’s overall dynamic, but wants to see continued progress when it comes to players bonding and learning.
“The biggest challenge we face is communication within the team. The team is just starting to bond and come together as we progress through the season I have expectations of the communication to get stronger,” Patterson said. “Where we need to grow the most is team synergy with having only three returners we have a new team. If this team can bond and trust each other we will have some great accomplishments.”
So far, the coaching staff has seen the seniors provide mentoring for the underclassmen and in return, the underclassmen pushing the seniors in different areas. Wins in the first three games of the season were encouraging for the Polar Bears, who swept a doubleheader against Nordonia and won their Federal League opener against Canton McKinley. In those three games, the offense produced double-digit runs twice and averaged 9.7 runs per game, proving that chilly spring weather wasn’t enough to silence the Polar Bears’ bats.
The season, as usual, points toward a district tournament that once again boasts all of the Federal League’s best teams. With a goal of making their way through that bracket and getting to the regional level, the Polar Bears will have a good chance in the next month-plus to see most of their potential tournament opponents during the course of league play.
Weather will likely make it an interesting season, as anyone who has played spring sports in Northeast Ohio knows, but there is optimism within the program that good things are possible.
“I have very high expectations for this year. We our talented beyond measure and if we can come together as a group we will be fierce,” Patterson said. “We look very fundamentally sound on the field and if our bats in the lineup are more consistent we will definitely score runs and surprise teams.”
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