Exactly one month to the day after Brian Ostby held his first official practice as the new fastpitch softball coach at West Valley, he took his team outside to do something other than shovel and rake.
The challenge is that Monday wasn’t a practice session; the Eagles played their first game – sweeping a nonleague doubleheader with Deer Park.
As introductions to a new job go, this one has been, to say the least, unique.
“I’m choosing to look at it as a positive thing,” Ostby said. “Having all this time in the gym together has given me a chance to really get to know these girls and understand who they are. I wouldn’t have had that chance outside.
“But on the other hand, we were all going pretty stir-crazy after all that time in the gym.”
Aside from getting the field ready, the biggest challenge he faces, Ostby insists, is learning how to effectively communicate with his players. He’s thankful he’s had the opportunity to work on that to start the season.
And, he said, the field prep has gone smoothly as well.
“Our maintenance people have worked hard getting ready to play,” he said. “They worked pretty hard on it back in the fall. But we’re in better shape than some teams in the area – we were a little wet around the pitching circle, and we’re working on that.”
The Eagles got off to a rocky start against Deer Park and found themselves down five runs after three innings. Going into the bottom of the seventh inning, they trailed 6-3.
So they scored six runs in their final at-bat, earning a 9-6 victory. Along the way to the doubleheader sweep, the Eagles blasted four home runs.
“I told them that we’re going make mistakes,” Ostby said. “So what? We’ve proved to ourselves that we can come back and still win games,.”
Paul Cooley spent more than a dozen years coaching West Valley, and as he prepared for his retirement from coaching, he called last year’s Eagles team his best.
“That’s the great thing about this job,” Ostby said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk with Paul at length about these girls, and I wish I had, and these are some really big shoes to fill. But the one thing I know about this program is this: West Valley has players.”
The new coach said he plans to rely heavily on four-year starting pitcher India Wells, for example.
“This year we’re only going to count two of the three games we play with each other in the league standings,” he said. “I am going to lean on India in those doubleheaders. I want to make sure she’s strong enough to go a game-and-a-half or two full games if she has to. We have other pitchers, but she’s a senior and she’s the most experienced pitcher we have.”
Wells was a second-team All-Great Northern League selection a year ago and is the league’s top returning pitcher.
“It felt so good to finally be throwing on dirt,” Wells said. “It took a little while to get to it. It’s been since, like, since September since I have done that.”
Senior co-captain Maggie Thompson, a first-team All-GNL selection last year, plays first base and is the team’s cleanup hitter. Trinity Moore, also a senior, is an anchor at third base and a long-ball threat at the plate. Infielders Jillian Taylor and Kilee Imada, a first-team and second-team pick, respectively, last year, give the team a solid, veteran infield.
“I am so lucky to have this infield playing behind me,” Wells said. “This is the best infield I have ever played with.
“I like to tell people that we’re a defensive team, but I think we showed (Monday) that we can really hit, too.”
Players are coming out of the woodwork for Ostby.
“Two of my players, Jillian and Kilee, came to me and told me they had a recruit,” the coach said. “They brought in Hailey Marlow, who hadn’t played softball in four years. She was a track kid. I thought to myself, wow, she’s fast. I’m going to teach her how to drag bunt and watch her run.
“I threw her in there for our first game, and she went 3-for-4 and hit a dinger. She hit a home run to straightaway center field. And then she goes 2-for-4 in the second game and hits another dinger!”
“Hailey is really fast, and she’s a great addition,” Wells said. “The thing is, those at-bats Monday were the first she’s had since, like, seventh grade. She’s amazing!”
Ostby said he has a long list of things he wants to work on going forward.
“One of the first things I want us to work on is baserunning,” he said. “Hard to do that in the gym. I’m never going to criticize a player for running the bases aggressively, and I know we’re going to make mistakes. But I want us to work on situations, and I want us to develop the kind of communication it takes to keep us all on the same page.”