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.