Amid Struggles of Short Season, Softball Perseveres

GDS’ women’s softball team. Photo by Reid Alexander.

After losing sophomore Mackenzie Williams to a left leg injury, Donna Stallworth, head coach of the women’s softball team, was left with zero starting pitchers on her roster. After contemplating who would get the starting job in their next game against the St. Andrews Lions, Stallworth called upon freshman Catherine Dooley to take up the task. Dooley had never pitched in a softball game before, but desperate times called for desperate measures. 

“It’s not something I’d normally do,” Stallworth told the Bit, “but this is a COVID year.” Dooley was given one day to prepare herself for her first ever softball pitching start. 

The game wouldn’t last long, as the Hoppers ended up dropping the game 15-3 to the Lions. “It’s frustrating because I can’t participate and I can’t help my team,” Williams said after the game.

Before the shortened 2021 softball season started at the beginning of April, Stallworth, along with assistant coaches Pam Stanfield and Bryan Williams, had many obstacles to overcome until they truly felt like the team was ready for competitive matches. 

Coming into the season, the coaches were tasked with deciding who they would train to become the team’s everyday starting pitcher. Back in the spring of 2019, when GDS sports had their last normal season before the pandemic, Trish Massaro ’19 was the team’s starting pitcher, while Sabrina Baheri ’20 was her catcher. According to junior Maddie Feldman, the team’s utility player, after Massaro graduated, Stallworth hoped to develop Baheri and then-sophomore Reid Alexander into the team’s two main pitchers. Unfortunately, with last year’s spring season being cut short, Baheri only made one pitching appearance before graduating. The team was then dealt another blow as Alexander decided not to participate in the 2021 softball season, leaving the team with no pitchers. 

After GDS was able to confirm that spring sports would return to competition, the team wasted no time getting its practices started. Stallworth explained that this year’s season wasn’t as strict as a normal year would be. Players were given a lot more flexibility with how many practices they would be required to attend and were put on a “loose leash” for the time being.

“If there’s something else they’ve committed to because [of] not knowing that we were going to return to school, then that’s fine,” she said. “Students have been balancing activities such as theater and other extracurricular opportunities.” 

But Stallworth says so far, the turnout has been great. “We have kids that have been with us that are very into being a part of the team,” she said. “They are positive all the time regardless of what situation I put them in.”

Junior Eve Kolker, the team’s third baseman, emphasized that the coaches are really trying to give every player plenty of opportunities. “They’ve made a real effort to give everyone at least some time in the field,” she said. “The coaches are trying to push us but also trying to develop us as players through positive reinforcement and constant support.”

When Thursday, May 13, came around and the GDS Hoppers were prepping for gametime on the third base bench of the GDS high school field, Stallworth said, she told Dooley some words of encouragement before the game. “My expectations are not up here,” Stallworth said, expressing that she was “proud of [Dooley] for stepping up and pitching, having never pitched before.”

After Dooley’s rough outing in her first start, she was met with the support of her teammates and coaches. “The upperclassmen are so nice,” Dooley said. “I would name a few but it’s just every single one of them. They’re full of positive reinforcement so if you mess up during the game, they’re always there to have your back and cheer you on.” 

Despite the blowout loss, teammates only expressed their appreciation for Dooley and her courageous efforts after taking the mound. “I think it’s very honorable. She literally just started pitching the day before the game,” said Kolker. 

As the season nears its end, Stallworth looks back on how fortunate she was that they were able to come together as a team and go out and compete, even if they haven’t won a game so far. “The goal this year was for them to be able to connect, get to know each other so when we start back on our regular season, we will be as close knit as we are normally as a team,” she said.

Looking ahead to next year’s season, Stallworth announced that the softball team will be playing in the Independent School League (ISL) upper division for the first time ever. The team got promoted after finishing the 2019 season in first place in a lower division. Additionally, she anticipates a much stronger team next year with a full preseason and a new class of freshmen joining the team. She expressed that her girls were very excited to hear that there would even be an experienced new pitcher, Daria Hoehn-Saric, coming up from the middle school.