By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Visit the Geneva softball team’s dugout 45 minutes prior to the start of a game and you’ll find the Eagles laughing and joking about most everything except softball.
Watch them in pregame warmups, and you might see them bantering back and forth with coach Eleshia Pitcher.
Look to the middle of the diamond in the fourth inning and you might see Pitcher’s daughter, Amy, look to the dugout, throw her hands in the air, a smile on her face, as if to say, “I tried.”
Listen close in the sixth inning, the Eagles trailing as Sarah Depp shouts over to the third-base coach’s box from second with a strategic thought.
“Leesh, just have her get it down and I’ll score,” she might say.
Most coaches might have a problem with every one of those scenarios. Pitcher welcomes them with open arms.
“Ever since they were little, I’ve told them they have to have fun,” Pitcher said. “They only get to do this for so long. If it’s not fun, they should be doing something else.
“They’re always having fun, even at practice. When we’re trying to do drills and stuff, they’re always being silly.”
Pitcher even encouraged her players to enjoy the ride for as long as possible.
“I think we always played more relaxed,” she said. “I told them to have fun. As long as they were doing their best, winning or losing didn’t matter as long as they were having fun.”
The Eagles, however, knew when it was time to get serious and rarely disappointed. They had an ability to flip a switch and win a ballgame at any given point.
“I just knew they always wanted to win,” Pitcher said. “They knew what their goals were, but they knew they could be relaxed and have fun.
“They know when to stop pushing my buttons. They’ve been around me long enough to know when enough is enough.”
Pitcher is the Star Beacon Ashtabula County Coach of the Year after the Eagles finished 21-3, won the Premier Athletic Conference title — for the second consecutive season — with an 11-1 league mark and made an appearance in the regional tournament.
“I’ve seen a group of girls so determined,” Pitcher said. “They pushed the underclassmen hard. They all came together. They all had the same goals.”
Along the path, the Eagles developed a knack for pulling off wins in exciting ways, usually waiting until late in games to turn it on.
“They just seemed happy this year to do what they had to in order to win,” Pitcher said. “They did what they had to and nothing more. We joked with them after games that they just barely won... again.”
As the season wound down, the Eagles shed no tears. Instead, they rode off into the sunset with smiles, despite the fact the season ended with a 4-0 loss to Walsh Jesuit in a regional semifinal in which they were no-hit.
“The way they handled it, I guess they were happy with what they did (over the course of the season). They almost settled for just being there. They were proud of what they’d done.
“I had told them before the game that we made it as far as any Geneva team ever had. I told them to be proud and don’t cry. There will always be a winner and a loser. As long as they did their best, that’s all that mattered.”
For Pitcher, it was a fun ride with a group of girls she had coached from the very early days of their Little League careers.
“That was really exciting,” Pitcher said. “I coached them a lot since they were little. Being a part of this with them was pretty exciting for me.
“Some of them, I had since they were 5 in either basketball or softball. They were always a part of my team.”
After sharing the PAC title a season ago, Geneva locked up the outright championship early this year.
“We had to wait and see if everybody else was going to do their part (for us) last year,” Pitcher said. “Out first goal was to win the PAC outright this year. They were determined to do it. It was amazing to do that.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.