CEDAR LAKE -- I am not a fan of Facebook. At all.
Don’t like the brain-numbing control, politics, or CEO of one of the world’s richest and dangerous corporations.
But that does not mean there aren’t positive items that could be gleaned from the "Tech Monster."
Hanover Central sophomore Leah Mokos was searching for some softball uplift in early March, something that would draw the Wildcats closer. The young squad was barely average in 2018. She wanted more.
Her eyes sprinted across an article about a volleyball team that used a rope as a team-bonding icon. Instead of fighting factions, grumbling loners, or bad attitudes in spikes, Mokos wanted a slogan that all could share.
This wasn’t a T-shirt, bumper sticker, or saying within a yawn. This was a lifestyle, a heartbeat.
“I will hold the rope” became a battle cry.
“It said if you were hanging off a cliff would you want one of your teammates up above holding the rope, having your life in their hands,” Mokos said. “Last year was patchy, we didn’t play like a family. I did not think it would go this far.
“But it has.”
Mokos talked to second-year Hanover coach Jason Bolden about the “Hold the Rope” concept. He loved it. Before the season even started the team got together at his home for a pizza party, then each player and coach put their favorite color on the 10-foot rope.
In time, all the colors bled into one.
Bolden had gathered each player before the season started and read them the riot act. He spoke about things that happened last season, on and off the field, that could not happen again. Issues like focusing on personal stats, whining about where you are in the batting order, and moaning about if you’re playing this game or not had to end for the betterment of the team.
After a lot of tears and soul searching, a team with no “i” in the word started to grow.
“I knew everyone of these girls had to have each other’s back,” Bolden said. “The rope has been at every practice and in the dugout for every game. In our first game against Chesterton I kept saying, ‘Hold the rope.'
“It didn’t take long before the girls were saying it.”
On Tuesday at Jimtown, the rope was stretched along the fence in the dugout. The paws of the Wildcats were on it throughout a nail-biting 8-7 win in the Class 3A regional, the program’s first in four years. If you followed the local media you would not even know Hanover Central had a softball team. These talented ladies have been ignored.
But on Saturday they will play Yorktown in the semistate. Is anyone paying attention outside of Cedar Lake?
“I was a little confused about the rope at first,” junior catcher Tyler Chambers said with a smile. “But it didn’t take long before I got what I stood for. We are all in this together.”
In 2013, ‘14, and ‘15 Hanover won sectional and regional titles under legendary coach Larry McMillen. After that there were crickets for three springs. Consequently, when Hanover beat Highland to win its first sectional championship in awhile goosebumps could be felt all around Griffith’s field.
“A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders,” Bolden said.
“We were all crying in the dog pile,” junior Elise Kratkoczki said of the sectional win. “I had chills.”
“There was so much energy,” junior Ashtyn Barnett said. “We were all holding the rope and holding it up high.”
“Relief,” Chambers said. “That’s what I felt. Relief.”
Alyssa Albrecht missed much of last season due to illness and injury. Now, she’s at third base and holding the rope like all of her teammates, which boasts an athletic and deep line-up.
“(Mokos) is my throwing partner so I wanted to know what she was talking about with the rope,” Albrecht said. “We talked about it a lot and I’ve seen what she was talking about every game this year.”
Now, back to Facebook, if we must.
Bolden said the parents, friends, and fans of this team are typing “Hold the Rope” in their Facebook posts. So if that’s happening this must be important, right?
“These kids are leaving a legacy,” Bolden said. “And that is really cool.”
Saturday will be tough, ladies. But let me tell you winning can take place. Play the game you love with all your heart. Have fun. And without question, “Hold the Rope.”
ST. JOHN -- A decade ago high school softball was a much different game and few were those who strayed from the orthodoxy.
If you had a stud-ette pitcher, she threw the ball in every big moment of the season, especially when the breeze started to warm up.
Pete Iussig was coaching the Lowell Red Devils in 2009 and he rode Lauren Wells to the Class 4A state finals. During the regular season he split the pitching time between Wells and Jacki Fletcher. But when the postseason arrived he rode his horse, Wells, all the way to Indianapolis.
“Fletcher was one of the best second basemen in Indiana,” Iussig said. “We were much better with her there.”
Two years ago Iussig rode Alexis Holloway and the Crown Point Bulldogs to the Class 4A state championship. Every pitch. Every moment from May on. That’s the way it used to be. But the game is changing.
On Friday night after C.P. edged Lake Central 2-0 in an unbelievable sectional championship game in St. John, Iussig started the game with freshman Brinkley Kita. She was lights out in the first four innings.
In wins against Kankakee Valley and Munster to get to Friday’s showdown he trusted his sophomores. He put Madi Young (Bowling Green) in the circle for the middle innings and Arizona-bound standout Madi Elish in to close out the last few innings and finish the game.
Against the Indians, however, he went from Kita to Elish.
“No,” Iussig said when I asked him if he ever didn’t pitch a Division I pitcher in a postseason game in his 30 years of coaching softball in the Region.
“Using different pitchers gives (Lake Central) a different look,” Iussig said. “And they have a really good lineup.”
This great game is changing. The old days are gone.
Iussig said when he started coaching softball 30 years ago about half the pitchers his Red Devils faced would hear the same kind of thing from someone in the stands, “She throws like a girl.”
Neither of these three Bulldogs will ever hear those tired old words, and neither will Lake Central pitcher Peyton Pepkowski, who was throwing darts. The sophomore had 10 strikeouts.
Only a home run down the left-field line by Mallory McMahon in the fourth inning and a RBI double in the sixth by Anna Holloway dinged the scoreboard. Elish also had two hits with a double.
Many colleges are starting to use multiple pitchers in a single game. One time through the order and you’ll see movement in the pen. But not in high school, right? Is there that much pitching out there these days?
With the opportunities out there these days in travel ball and scholarship money at the next level, I believe more girls are putting in the long hours to develop these skills. The bigger schools have a better chance to develop a rotation. But using three pitchers in a game all the way to Indy, is this possible?
Crown Point will play at Chesterton on Tuesday in the regional. A win gets the ‘Dogs to next Saturday’s semistate.
Iussig said he never told the girls about using them all in one game. But five games ago the "Pony Express" started to run fast in red. Most every pitcher wants to be out there all the time. It takes a lot of sacrifice by these girls hoping to make the team better.
“I believe that all of our pitchers can do their job,” Elish said. “The hitting is getting better so I think the game is changing. I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the future.”
That’s a strong pitch for the betterment of the game.