bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on your team’s play at the Diamond Devil Invitational in Tempe?
Cat Heifner: I thought we played well. I thought we gave ourselves chances in each ballgame and we came out a little bit on our heels in the Minnesota game and even though it didn’t show up in the stats, you could see our confidence build within that game and we were really attacking our plan and doing some things that maybe didn’t show up in the box score. That gave us confidence for the rest of the weekend.
Frankly I thought we played ASU as well as you could without winning. I thought it was a good weekend. Every weekend with this group we’re seeing lots of growth. It’s fun to see and fun to coach because we can sit them down and say, “Okay we’re here, let’s try this and this and this,” and they get after it and the next week we see improvement. It’s really been a fun ride so far.
bc.net: As the offensive coach, what have you seen from your team through the first three weekends in terms of growth?
CH: What I think we’ve seen is that we have depth. We’re playing some pretty good opponents and so the first two weekends we saw a bunch of offense, we were at home, I think we were in our own element, very comfortable. This weekend we went on the road and I think your first weekend on the road, it’s an adjustment period and I still think we did well offensively. What I really liked in Tempe was that we were clutch. Any coach would trade a lot of offense for clutch offense. That really played out in each of our games and so we may not have scored double-digit runs in every game but we did great situationally and we had some really clutch offense come through.
bc.net: How does your strategy change when you’re playing a tight game like the one you had against Boise State which was a 4-3 win and even the one you had against Arizona State even though it was a high scoring game?
CH: I think it depends on where we are and what kind of game we’re in. We were in more of a slugfest with Arizona State and Boise was more of a low scoring game. I think it all depends on the pitcher that we’re facing, how we’re doing, where we are. We might go to short game early early in some cases, we may go to short game late in some cases, we may hit and run early, we may wait and do that late. The good thing this year about our offense is that we have a lot of flexibility in terms of speed so we can put pressure on people by stealing or by hitting and running or bunting and running. Because we have so many weapons we have a lot of flexibility to do a lot of different things.
bc.net: Obviously you like to be able to win a multitude of different ways and this weekend you were able to win low scoring games.
CH: It was fun to be in a game that was lower scoring. As the hitting coach I kind of love the slugfests, they’re fun but a traditional softball game is low-scoring so we don’t see a lot of those. With Boise we saw that this weekend and it was fun to be able to execute under pressure when we needed to and not just rely on the long ball.
bc.net: You’ve got a lot of younger players and you talked about that first trip out on the road. What did you learn about your team and their road presence?
CH: What I learned about our team is we’re very resilient and we’re very deep. We pinch hit Corrin Green who’s a freshmen in the ASU game and she’s from the Phoenix area and she hit a home run. We pinch hit another freshman and she hit a double off the wall. We did a lot of good things. We’re very resilient and we’re deep. I think starters get swing fatigue, they get mentally fatigued. A lot of things happen over the course of a season and a lot of starters don’t get a break, they don’t get a game off. They’ll tell you don’t want that game off but in reality it helps them if they can just not have to carry the load all the time. What I saw is we have a lot of different people who can carry that load.
bc.net: You’ve got another tough weekend ahead at UNLV. What different kind of styles you expect to see from those teams?
CH: We’ll talk about Wisconsin first as a Big Ten foe, they’re unique in that they play a lot of short game. Wisconsin will put four runs on people and never hit it out of the infield. They’re a very small-ball oriented team and we’re preparing for that. That’s going to be different than what we’ve seen the first three weeks. Then you have UNLV who have had some great games and they’ll be on their home field so that’s going to be a great challenge for us. DePaul was one of the top teams in their league last year and they’re always traditionally good. We’re going to be challenged, no question. I don’t know a lot about Louisiana-Monroe because we haven’t seen them in a couple of years but usually they’re very competitive too. We’re ready. There are a lot of different things that are going to be thrown at us this weekend and what I like about our team is we’re very adaptable and very resilient so I expect good responses.
bc.net: As the person who puts the schedule together for the team, obviously you and Coach Rodolph talk about what you want to accomplish in the non-conference. Through the first three weekends of the non-conference and heading into this weekend, have you been happy with what you’ve gotten out of these non-conference games?
CH: I have been really happy and so has Coach. We’ve talked about this a lot as a staff and in fact we just had a little state of the union meeting with the team too today and they’re very happy with where they’re at. The reason is that we have learned something from every game we have played, we’ve taken that lesson and applied it to the next game. I feel like if we keep doing that and we keep staying this resilient we’re going to be where we want to be. Last year we didn’t feel like we had a challenging enough pre-conference schedule and so we wanted to correct that this year. Although Coach sometimes thinks I might have overcorrected that a little bit this year, I do think that it’s necessary because you never want to go into a ballgame down a couple of runs to a jersey. You always want to go into a ballgame, “Hey, I don’t care if that’s Kansas or Arizona or Arizona State or Nebraska,” we’re just going to go in and play Aggie softball and I think you can accomplish that when you make your pre conference schedule tough.
bc.net: One of the things that I talk about a lot with Coach Rodolph is that a lot of times when you’re taking on these top ranked opponents is getting your team to adjust to the speed of the game and not playing too fast. How would assess your team’s play so far in that respect?
CH: I think there’s been moments where it’s been really good and I think there’s moments that have caught us off guard but we’re not getting beat by the same thing every time. We were just working in practice today on playing fast but not rushing defensively. We’re getting that, we’re getting what that means and how to process at a quicker rate. That’s something that’s really going to help us in conference.
bc.net: Who are some of younger players who you have been particularly impressed with from an offensive standpoint?
CH: Offensively, our hitters are usually two categories. They can either hit the long ball or they can steal bases. So our speedy kids, Rachel Rodriguez has done a great job as a slapper for us and has really been key, was super key for us this last weekend. Amy Bergeson, even though she hasn’t gotten a lot of time, every time she goes in she is a threat at the plate to put down a bunt or to hit a gap from the left side and to steal bases. I’ve been really excited about them. Dallas McBride, who also pitches for us, has been very clutch and very consistent and has found a pretty consistent spot in our lineup so far and has done a really nice job. Corrin Green and Nue Sivia are both power threats and they’re no joke power threats. They’re kind of finding their stride. They’re learning a little bit about this level and the game within the game and they’re embracing that and excelling at it. Both of those two had a great tournament last week.
bc.net: How has the addition of the speed and having hitters who are able to slap and play that short game, how has that changed what you’ve been able to do from a strategy standpoint?
CH: From a strategy standpoint we can do matchup whereas in the past we were limited in the type of matchups we can do. I can put a lineup out there right now that’s eight out of nine are lefty. Whether it’s power or speed, that really can throw you off. I think it’s allowed us to go to a short game if we need to. There are times in a game where you’re in a one-run ballgame and you need to be able to utilize a short game. We can do that now. I think it puts more pressure on somebody else’s infield and we don’t just have to hit station to station. With the speed we can go two bases. It gives us a lot of flexibility and I can say this is our game plan and we can do X or Y or Z and we have the ability to execute that. It’s been fun to coach.
bc.net: Is there anything from the first three weekends that you haven’t seen or haven’t accomplished that as a coaching staff that you want to see the team accomplish this weekend or next weekend?
CH: I think one of the goals that we all have as a staff and as a team is to clean up our defense a little bit and to be consistent and to be clutch. We have a saying that we want to be a shark. We read John Gordon’s The Shark and the Goldfish book and the whole intent of that is to hunt. To not wait around to be fed but to actually go out and hunt what you’ve been looking for. We’re doing that offensively and we’re doing a great job of that offensively. We want to see that defensively as well. We’re almost there, we’re about to turn a page in the pitching circle as well. I think the pitchers have done a great job. It’s not really showing up yet if you look at the stat sheet but they’re getting better by leaps and bounds in terms of the things that we’re asking them to hunt for so to speak or be sharky about. I expect that to be a big difference this weekend and I expect our defense to clean up this weekend.
bc.net: How much better is the pitching staff having been able to face your offense on a day-in-day-out basis in practice in particular this year’s offense where you have a lot of different options and are able to simulate what you’re going to see from a particular opponent?
CH: I think it’s great for the pitching staff because if we’re seeing a team like Wisconsin and they need to throw against an all-lefty lineup that’s going to be speedy and quick, we can simulate that in practice. I think we can throw a lot of things at them and it keeps them really resilient and they see some pretty good hitters in practice. They’re not intimidated. They’re going to go right after everybody because there’s nobody that’s going to hit it harder than Staci Rodriguez or Fiana Finau or Lacey Rother or Kelsey Dodd, I could name off ten kids right/ And there’s nobody that’s going to be speedier than our speedy kids. I think it really helps prepare them and I think it helps prepare us too to see live arms as well.