(March 22, 2019) Scott Kurtz has taken over the Stephen Decatur softball program for the 2019 season and is also joined by a new coaching staff.
“I’m excited for my young coaching staff. You can see there’s a lot of energy,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement.”
He replaces Heather Patnode, who led the team for five seasons.
Beth Laque is the varsity assistant coach. She graduated from Decatur in 2014 and was a key contributor on the mound during her high school softball career.
Kelly Gee is the head JV coach. Chelsea Muir will assist her.
“It’s a nice balance,” he said. “As a new coaching staff completely, we just have to focus on one day at a time, one drill at a time, one skill at a time, and fixing one mistake at a time.”
Kurtz was also a first-year head coach of the girls’ basketball team this winter.
“I’m blessed again to have another great group of young ladies that I get to coach,” he said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie, a lot of friendships. I’m excited to make some memories with this team.”
It may be Kurtz’s first year as a coach, but he has observed the team for a number of years. Both of his daughters played softball for Decatur.
He has seen all of the veterans play over the past few years and, in the classroom, he has taught nearly all of the girls, so the transition of taking over the program was pretty smooth, he said.
Of the 14 girls on his roster, seven were on last year’s team that finished with a 9-10 record. The squad’s season ended in the second round of the regional tournament.
He will rely on senior leadership this season, particularly from captains, pitcher Alexis Black and catcher Alex Richwalski.
“They’ve been doing this for four years. They just look at each other and know exactly what each other is thinking,” Kurtz said. “They sort of lead from within. The girls who have been here follow and the new girls are falling right into the fray also. It’s really fun to watch.”
Black earned Bayside South Conference First Team honors for her performance during the 2018 season. When she is not pitching, Black will see some time at first base.
“Our team is very young this year so, [with] my experience and Alex’s, we’ll really bring the younger girls in and teach them what Decatur softball is,” said Black, a member of the team since her freshman year. “I feel like being a senior and a pitcher, I’ll help lead the team a lot better than I have before … the pitcher gets the ball every play, so I have to be a leader for players on the field.”
Richwalski is back behind the plate as the team’s catcher. She may also play third base and in the outfield.
“I’m older and I’ve been here for awhile now. I got to see the dynamics of how we worked, and now I can help other girls improve and take a step up as a leader,” she said.
This is also Richwalski’s fourth year on the team.
“I feel like a lot of girls have stepped up and they’re learning from each other and coaches and us as well. We are young, but we are very skilled,” she said. “I do want to improve a lot and it’s my senior year, so I want to have a lot of fun, too.”
While Kurtz was coaching the basketball team this winter, he said Black, Richwalski and Laque ran softball workouts.
“They got things started. We’ve been gearing up of this,” he said. “The schedule is not kind to us early. We’ve got to be ready.”
Also returning are juniors Amber Whittaker (center field) and Sierra Eisemann (second base), who both received Bayside South Second Team accolades for their performances last year, as well as sophomores Brooklyn Pugner (first base) and Katie Wrench (utility).
Five “versatile” freshmen have joined the squad.
“They bring a lot of energy and a lot of skill and speed,” Kurtz said.
About 90 percent of the group plays softball year-round, which has proved to be beneficial.
“This is their sport,” he said. “We don’t have to teach fundamentals. It’s just cleaning up the little things. They really know what to do, it’s more about figuring each other out.”
Kurtz said the team has speed, solid bats and several talented pitchers.
“We’re deep in pitching even though we have a lot of new players,” he said. “A lot of the young girls coming up have been pitching for years, and we have ourselves a college pitcher on the mound and the other girls can learn from her.”
Black plans to play softball for Salisbury University next year.
“We have a lot of leadership on the mound and we’re hoping that becomes a strength, and hitting as speed could be our offense strength this year,” he said. “Defense, that’s going to be the key.”
Kurtz said the team has been working on its defense.
“What we have to make sure is that our pitching and defense combined gets us into the victory column, so minimizing errors, making the right play, staying focused on the field, because we have the pitching to do it,” he said. “If we can back up the pitching and play smart and stay focused, we should be able to do a lot of good things this year.”
Kurtz said if the coaching staff can get the girls to play each game like it’s their last, with that mentality the group can do some special things.
“I think we’re going to have a really good season this year,” Black said. “I’m very excited. It’s a little bittersweet, but I’m excited for it.”