Clutts reaches 500 wins as Cobras softball steadily improves
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 13:04
The Cobras softball team began the year with very high expectations and that same tough schedule that Head Coach Chuck Clutts lines up for them each year.
That combination led to some tough stretches in which the Cobras were swept by Heartland, Kankakee and Iowa Central, who are all ranked in the top five teams in the country.
Despite that fact, the Cobras are an outstanding 27-7 against the rest of their schedule this year and performed very well on their spring trip to Pensacola and West Florida University, going 6-4 against stiff competition from Blackhawk College and Iowa Central.
However, Clutts is pushing for more consistency and hitting from his ball club as he believes those factors will lead to more wins when it counts.
“We’ve got a 60 game season,” he said. “There’s nobody that’s going to be at that peak every single game, it’s just impossible.”
“You’re going to have peaks and valleys and the sooner you come out of the valley, the better off you’re going to be,” he continued. “You won’t come out unless you really buy into the mental attitude of it.”
During the practice held the day after the team was swept by Heartland, Clutts sat the team down and stressed mental toughness in order to prepare them to compete with the best in the country.
On his approach to coaching softball, Clutts quoted baseball great Yogi Berra, saying, “Baseball is only ten percent physical, and ninety percent mental.”
Clutts pointed out that the biggest chore is to teach the girls the mental part of the game.
By anyone else’s standards, the No. 17 Cobras, with a record of 27-13 overall and 16-4 in M-WAC play, have been solid and have had a good year on paper. Clutts, however, always expects more from his team in every aspect of the game.
Pitching-wise, the team’s ERA stands at 3.38, which isn’t bad by any means, but Clutts would like to see it improve.
“Pitching’s been off and on,” he said. “We’ve got to really work on our consistency. It’s been one of our down-points.”
Clutts refers to the fact that one day a girl will throw well and the next day not so well despite having just done well the day before. One luxury of softball that is overlooked is the fact that pitchers do not need as much rest as those in baseball due to the less stressful arm motion.
The Cobras have five talented pitchers. Freshmen Tabitha Davis, Taylor Hull and Alison Kimble, as well as sophomores Amy Simpson and Shelby Lust can all share the load. Each has pitched over 30 innings so far and recorded at least 10 strikeouts. “When they come out they pitch their hardest,” sophomore Right fielder Kaitlyn Winkler said. “No matter what, they’re keeping their heads up.”
Clutts also believes the hitting can improve, despite a solid .340 team batting average. “My goal is .360, and that’s their goal too,” he said.
Despite the few disappointments, Clutts and the Cobras are still confident in their abilities. “Sometimes we struggle hitting, but you know we work through it,” Winkler said. “I have definitely seen improvements though.”
Although he is a demanding coach, Clutts is happy about what the girls are doing and sees how hard they are working for him. “I can’t ask for any more from the girls,” he said.
There have been many more good stretches than bad for this Cobra team offensively. In a four double header stretch against Lincoln Trail, Lincoln, Lewis and Clark, and John Wood, the Cobras never even had a close game. The Cobras outscored their opponents 65-11, which led to an 8 game win streak.
Freshman Kelsey Kniepmann and sophomore Megan Dewerff lead the team in hitting at over .400 and are playing outstanding, especially considering the fact that Dewerff is coming off a concussion and has seen fewer innings lately.
Sophomores Macy Shupe and Liz Sprague also are seeing the ball very well and hitting over .360. Freshman pitcher Taylor Hull has also swung the bat well, hitting .380 so far and been a multi dimensional player.
Coming into the year, Clutts was sitting at 488 wins and knew that this year a milestone could be reached. Win No. 500 eventually came on March 28 in game one against Lincoln Trail. He now sits at 515-181-2 overall in his 13th year as head coach.
“It was a goal, I won’t kid you. It was definitely a goal,” Clutts said. “But I got it and I go ‘Okay there’s another ball game.’ Actually what I started focusing on was my first win in Florida way back in 2001 and thinking ‘Man it’s been that long,’” he said with a smile.