In a spring on renewed optimism and enthusiasm, the softball program at St. John High School took one of the biggest steps in terms of invigorating a program were made by coach Mike Houser’s softball squad.
The Heralds numbered by 12, but they were anything but a dirty dozen in terms of results as they put together a 9-3 season and won the Lake Effect Conference championship.
St. John’s winning percentage of .750 was the best posted by any St. John sports squad in the 2012-13 school year and was third-best in Ashtabula County this spring among softball squads, trailing only Premier Athletic Conference champion Geneva (.875) and All-American Conference champion Jefferson (.778).
- The Heralds reached several other milestones this season:
- The winning season was the first for the program since the 2006 squad went 10-5.
- The .750 winning percentage was the best by a St. John softball squad since the 2004 team went 17-2 and posted a winning percentage of .895.
- The conference championship marked the first by the Heralds in softball since the aforementioned 2004 team won the East Suburban Conference crown.
“Yes, it has been awhile since the program has had a winning season,” Houser said. “Yes, we look forward to the future and, yes, we had a lot of fun.”
“Fun” has not been an operative word much for the St. John softball squad recently. In fact, since the aforementioned 2006 team went 10-5, the Heralds won a total of six games in the next six seasons — combined.
But this spring, something clicked for the Heralds, though Houser admits things at the beginning of the season did not resemble the way they did at the end of the campaign.
“During open gyms, the players eager to get going,” he said. “When the preseason officially started, the numbers were low – (we had) only 10 players.”
The lack of numbers almost ended the St. John season before it even got off the ground.
“The St. John administration was concerned if we were able to have a team,” he said. “We had a core group of young ladies all eager to get going. Some were experienced and some not so.”
But numbers are numbers and not enough of them can throw a monkey wrench into any season at any high school.
“It still required the team to add two players to ensure we had a full roster in case of absences, injury, etc.,” Houser said.
With that in mind, the veteran of the softball wars went to extremes.
“We added two players who had never played softball before, Cassie Hannah and Christy Yuen,” Houser said. “Christy Yuen is a foreign-exchange student from Hong Kong.”
That lack of know-how did not trump the girls’ want-to, however.
“Both were eager to learn and we had about four weeks to teach them the basics,” Houser said. “And also constantly telling them, ‘I don’t know how much playing time you will get, but we have to get you ready – just in case.’”
Little did Houser know, he was a bit of a prophet.
“The ‘just in case’ came sooner than later,” he said. “Very early in the season, we found ourselves short players for one reason or another.
“Myself, and assistant coaches Jim Howell and Dennis Perry constantly reminded the girls that this season had the makings of something special. Season achievements were endless.
“And that they did.”
Houser said help bringing the extremely green blue-and-white-clad squad along came from within.
“Our senior leadership was outstanding,” he said. “Alex Ferrante and Brenna Powers, both four-year letterwinners, offered on- and off-the-field leadership.
“Being absent from the program for two years, senior Alicia Lewis provided much-needed experience that would prove very beneficial.”
Houser ran through the list of the other Herald heroines:
- Junior, Alivia Cimorelli — “She is a three-year letterwinner and is the team’s most light-hearted player, allowing the most grim situation to be twisted around to a positive opportunity.”
- Junior MacKenzie Stenroos — ”She provided the team with a player who we could play infield or outfield.
- Sophomores Jordon Scott and Alicia Ngiraingas — “They were the team’s dynamic duo. Alicia, the team’s most valuable player and No. 1 pitcher, is a player who would love to play all positions, if possible. “Jordon Scott, an exceptional athlete and starting catcher, has barely scratched her playing ability and we look forward to her recognizing what possible potential she has next year.”
- Freshmen Reilly DeGeorge and Madeline Martino — “They are the future of the program. Both bring playing experience along with tremendous future growth.”
Houser, who took over as head softball coach in the aforementioned 2006 season and went 10-5 that spring, admits if it were only about the bottom line, he would not still be the Heralds’ head coach.
“Since being involved at St. John from 2003 to present, I have been part of some success and definitely some losing seasons,” he said. “Coaching several other teams, from the startup days of the Ohio Jaguars to taking boys from Ashtabula Little League to state five years in a row to winning GLBL leagues with teams out EAC Club, people will always ask, ‘how can you stay at that school (St. John) and deal with the possibility of another losing season?’”
And, to his credit, Houser answered the only way he knows — from the heart.
“My answer is always the same, as it is no matter what team I’m involved with,” he said. “It’s not always about the record, but about the memories you make, the life-building experiences you encounter and use in the future and just being able to say, ‘I was part of the team.’
“Sure, winning is great and we all want so much, the opportunity, but sometimes, as a coach and parent, you just sit back and say, ‘what a great gift these players are,’ and enjoy.”
Which just shows what anyone who has known Mike Houser has always realized — despite six consecutive seasons of struggle — the man is a winner.
And, this spring, his Heralds were, too.
McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.