Players Win Championships

SPORTS BLOG - THE WEEK THAT WAS

Featuring guest columnist, Athletic Director Joe Wootten.

Some of the more popular blogs through the years have been Q&A sit-downs with our coaches. That noted, this week's The Week That Was continues that recent trend as guest columnist Joe Wootten enjoys a Q&A session with softball head coach Tommy Orndorff.

As has come to be expected, the softball team is off to another tremendous start this spring – sporting an unblemished 16-0 record overall going into the Easter break and, in doing so, is ranked Top 10 nationally in two separate polls: USA Today Sports/NFCA High School Super 25 Poll (4th) and MaxPreps' Xcellent 25 National Softball Rankings (7th).

THE WEEK THAT WAS: When you think of O'Connell softball, you think of sustained excellence. What is your secret to success?

COACH ORNDORFF: From my perspective, it's plain and simple: good players. We have been very fortunate to attract some outstanding players to O'Connell through the years. Truly outstanding players for that matter, and, perhaps even more importantly, some outstanding young ladies who just do the right thing – both on the playing field and in their daily lives. In that respect, we have been blessed.

TWTW: Who are the key players on this year's team?

COACH ORNDORFF: The key word there is team. It sounds like a cliche, I suppose. But, it's true... especially with this year's team. In some way, shape or form, all of 'em are keys to the success that we have enjoyed so far. Everyone has a role and, in my view, they are fulfilling those roles to the max. That's why we are who we are!

Talent-wise, Kathryn Sandercock (pictured right) is a special player. As good as it gets in many respects. She's a natural! So, so athletic... so, so fluid in her movements, whether it be her delivery from the mound, her approach in the batter's box or her base running. Just a natural! Love to watch her play. She truly is as good as it gets, and she's only going to get better. I really believe that. She has been dominating this spring, especially in the pitcher's circle – surrendering just one run while averaging better than two strikeouts per inning. At the plate, make a mistake, and she will hurt you! She's just a very special player. As coaches like to say, she's 'the real deal.' Her totals through the Easter break are unreal: 16-0 record with a 0.14 earned run average and 206 strikeouts in 92 innings pitched. And that's just in the circle. Offensively, she is hitting .448 and is leading the team in runs batted in (33), doubles (7), triples (5) and home runs (5). She truly is a special player.

Right behind her is Patty Maye Ohanian, (pictured bottom) who is just now coming into her own again. Patty Maye had a career year her sophomore season. I'm talking a career year. The past couple of weeks, she's looking like she did in 2015 again. When she's got it going, there is not a better hitter in the DMV – and it appears she's getting her swing back again. If so, look out! It's just a matter of rhythm and timing right now. She's currently hitting .519, an average which has probably gone up over 100 points the past two weeks.

And a close third is middle infielder Caitlin Jorae. "C.J." (pictured right) is as good as it gets when she steps into the batter's box. Her technique and mechanics in the swing are exactly what the best coaches in the world teach. She's oh-so-perfect in so many respects when it comes to hitting a softball. If you want a clinic in hitting, check out C.J. She too is as good as it gets in that aspect of the game as her .407 batting average and .609 on base percentage attest. The Lil One can play!

That trio is obvious, since each of 'em earned All-Met recognition a year ago.

But, the player that I have found myself turning to the most at the end of last year and again this spring is Leah Hammes (pictured left). Like Kathryn, she is a naturally-gifted athlete who possesses outstanding skills and ability. Her speed and base-running are DI level assets as she capitalizes on 'em in putting pressure on opposing defenses. But, it is her leadership and will to win that make her the dynamic player that she truly is. Defensively, there's not a better third baseman in the DMV than Leah. In all aspects of the game, she is quite simply "a stud." She's hitting .438 with an on base percentage of .590. When I need something done on the field of play, it's Leah that I summon. She just gets it done! Love her game!

Like Patty Maye, it appears Kayla Turner (pictured below) is finding her stroke of late – and that's a good sign for us. When she's on her game, she's clutch! Elizabeth Hoeymans is having her finest year yet, hitting a team-high .545 and continuing to dazzle with her defensive play at second base. Lyndsay Flippin and "J.J." (Julia Jones) have been pleasant surprises at the bottom of the order as their offensive games evolve.

But, it's newcomer Meadow Sacadura whose game has really cemented the deal for this year's 2017 edition. Defensively, Meadow is outstanding – handling and calling the game for her pitcher. Having watched her in summer ball, I probably expected as much of her behind the plate. You have a top-of-the-line pitcher, you better have a top-of-the-line catcher – and we have that in Meadow. To her credit, she has also come up big in the batter's box – and that has been a tremendous plus for the team.

I truly believe what separates us from others in the area is the fact that, year-to-year, we have no outs in the lineup. No truly weak spots in the lineup one through nine. And that's highly unusual at the scholastic level. For that matter, any level.

Coming off the bench, Sophia Rzonca, a very versatile talent, fills in where we need her game-to-game, while Kiaris Alvarado-Rojas, Madelynn Bates and Angela Cottini provide big bats to go to in the pinch. Skye Ferris is our go-to for speed on the bases, with Cora Wack and Mary Catherine Hurley offering strong leadership traits along with capable back-up abilities in reserve for the outfield. Amanda Saffelle, along with Leah, are my go-to girls when I need something done or taken care of. They are my leaders. I look to either/or for almost any and everything. Amanda is our fourth outfielder and also serves as a fill-in starter on occasion.

TWTW: What areas of growth does this team need in order to be a championship level team?

COACH ORNDORFF: Our challenge is probably to continue to play at the level that we are playing. We truly are playing some awfully good softball right now. Coming off the Easter break promises to be a challenge. Other than that, I really like what I am seeing. If we can maintain our drive and determination, I think that we are in for a very special season when all is said and done. That's the challenge that lies in the weeks ahead. How bad do we want it? Can we maintain that drive and determination, that hunger that has gotten us this far? That's the challenge!

TWTW: The McLean win was a nail biter. Does having a close win early in the season help the team moving forward? What were the key plays in that game?

COACH ORNDORFF: Yes, definitely! Especially playing at McLean! That game brings out the best in both teams. It's a championship atmosphere in many aspects, and it prepares us for those type games down the road – especially come playoff time. It's a win-win situation for both programs.

Key plays? Certainly Kathryn's pitching and getting out of a two-on, one-out situation in the second inning. Then, as I alluded to earlier, Leah Hammes turning a single into two bases with her aggressive, heads-up base running. Then, moments later, scoring on Patty Maye Ohanian's (pictured left) base hit to left field. Her speed, savvy and sliding skills produced the game's one and only run. Leah is a big-time talent, DI level player! I have no doubts in that boast.

TWTW: Talk about last year's 19-inning championship game. So many moments and great plays! None bigger than a catch as the outfielder barreled into the fence to save a possible game-winning home run. Was that the greatest game you have been a part of in your storied coaching career?

COACH ORNDORFF: Wow, tough question! To be sure, it ranks right up there. But, to say the greatest, not sure. We have won a lot of games and championships here at O'Connell through the years, and all of 'em have special meaning in one way or another. I really don't want to take away from what others have done in the past. But, certainly, it ranks right up there. Pretty amazing game!

TWTW: You have coached over a span of six decades, an amazing feat unto itself. What changes have you seen in the game and the kids?

COACH ORNDORFF: Good question! I suppose that I could write a book on it, decrying today's culture and how it has hurt the game. Some days, I feel that.

But, all in all, I would have to say that there are more better athletes playing in today's game as opposed to 30, 40 years ago. Title IX has paved the way, and the opportunities out there today for girls are unbelievable. Back in the day, those opportunities did not exist for the female athlete. Thankfully, through Title IX, that has all changed.

And, from my standpoint, whether it be with the Shamrocks or O'Connell softball, I have been fortunate to deal with the best of the best. The athletes that I have attracted to both those programs through the years have a love of the game and passion to play that matches only my own. They take pride in all that has gone on before and want to be a part of that tradition...a tradition of excellence. Our goal every day is to be the best that we can be. That is and has been the one constant in our program. It is who we are!

That noted, today's Kathryn Sandercocks are yesterday's Nataly Prices, today's Patty Maye Ohanians are yesterday's Erin Marrones, today's Leah Hammes are yesterday's Tanya Spishaks, and so on, and so on.

So now, I ask myself, has it really changed? Truth be told, I don't think so.

The program itself has attracted great players, and, in turn, awesome young ladies. It has always been my belief that if "you build a program, they will come" – and they have! Our program always has been, and always will be, about our players. Players win championships!

That was The Week That Was, and this is guest columnist Joe Wootten.

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