GREEN  Going through the softball season for any team in the Federal League is a bit like riding a bike up a steep hill: try to build up as much momentum as possible before you get to the incline and fight your way to the top.
The Green Bulldogs, like the league’s other six teams, went through the non-league portion of its schedule knowing that the road would get tougher once league play began. They amassed eight wins, including several on a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, but the level of competition has risen since their return to Ohio and now they must find a way to rise with it.
Head coach Sarah Shullick believes the South Carolina trip laid a good foundation and helped unite the team in certain ways.
“Obviously, it’s nice just being by the beach and the girls really got to bond and figure things out before league play,” Shullick said. “Having them live together that week, they really got to know each other and gave us some momentum when we came back.”
The trip featured wins on the field and typical Myrtle Beach activities away from it, as players hung out, went to the beach, walked around town, got ice cream and pulled the occasional prank on their coaches.
Pranks were limited, as players couldn’t leave the property to pull them, but Shullick laughed as she recalled players putting 240 cups of water on the floor outside the coaches’ door for them to wake up to, using plastic wrap to trap the coaches inside their rooms and a failed prank of trying to put a lot of balloons in front of the door so the entire balloon mass would fly into the room when the coaches opened the door.
The fun of the trip, paired with some impressive wins on the field, sent the Bulldogs home feeling good about where they were as a team, even if the weather was a bit colder than they’d have liked back in Northeast Ohio.
“This year, the weather has actually been pretty decent,” Shullick said. “It’s been cold but the sun has usually been out and we haven’t had to worry about the rain too much.”
What the Bulldogs have had to worry about has been a schedule that has seen them face stout league rivals such as Hoover and Perry, with both squads battling Lake for the top spot in the standings thus far. The Vikings are a perennial power not just in the Federal League, but in the state, and Green’s 1-3 league start puts them in a pack of three teams - along with Jackson and GlenOak - with three defeats.
As Shullick noted, there isn’t one team that has wholly separated itself from the pack just yet and the relative parity is illustrated bt the fact that Green handily beat Jackson, then lost to a GlenOak team the Polar Bears had just beaten. Trying to make sense of which team is better than another at this point - by the transitive property or any other metric - is a frustrating exercise.
“We beat Jackson, then we went against Hoover and Perry and it’s always a grind against them and really, against anyone in the Federal League,” Shullick said. “It’s hard every single game because anybody can beat anybody. Right now, Lake, Perry and Hoover are in the lead, but we keep telling the girls that if we play our best, the outcome might be in their favor or the outcome might be in the other team’s favor, but we have to play our game.”
The pitching staff has been a three-person effort for the most part, as Grace Hammer, Grace Grissom and Campbell Collinsworth have amassed all nine of the teams wins, with Hammer (5-2) leading the way and Collinsworth and Grissom at two wins each.
Combined, the trio has recorded 10 strikeouts against just 28 walks through the first 13 games and being consistent in the strike zone will be key to continuing the Bulldogs’ winning ways.
At the plate, senior Kelly Daugherty has led the way with a .463 batting average, two home runs and 14 RBI. Shullick noted that Daugherty consistently hits the ball harder than anyone on the roster and having her bat in the middle of the lineup makes Green a scarier lineup for opposing pitchers. Junior outfielder Brooke Agosta sports a .366 average and is one of the lineup’s most consistent batters when it comes to putting the ball in play.
Overall, the Bulldogs are an offense built on base hits, moving runners over and using speed and contact as opposed to power, as they have just three home runs as a team. That means stringing together base hits and building rallies, a task that is no simple thing against the Federal League’s collection of top pitchers. As it heads into the second half of their league schedule, Green has to find ways to keep chugging up that hill, battling gravity and drawing on the momentum and chemistry it developed starting the year out in Myrtle Beach in order to get where it wants to go.

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