Covering their bases: 5 softball players talk approach to steals
Often the player who drives in the run garners the most attention. The players who swipe a base to get in scoring position have just as important a role, but they can be overshadowed.
Bella Cruz excels at her role. Even if it is something that can be overlooked, Cruz and her team know just how important it is when she swipes that extra base.
“I know that my role is to get to second or third and put my teammates in a position to [drive me in]," Cruz said. “It’s definitely something that I feel is generally overlooked, but the coaching staff at St. Anthony’s places an emphasis on it.”
Cruz swiped 29 bases and scored 38 runs last season, and was the catalyst for a St. Anthony’s team that won a state championship. She stole two bases against Kellenberg in the CHSAA final and was named tournament MVP.
“Speed is a big factor, but you can’t do anything without reading the ball,” Cruz said. “I try to be smart on the bases, but I still want to do whatever I can to get those extra bases.”
Speed on the bases can fluster an opposing pitcher. That attribute alone can create a good base-stealer, but a great one uses the smallest details to their advantage.
“There’s a difference between being a fast runner and being a good runner,” West Islip's Katie Fix said. “You need to have good softball IQ. You have to have the head for it and be aware of your surroundings.”
When Fix gets on base, she is always looking for a way to get into scoring position. She stole 20 bases a season ago for a West Islip team that was co-champion of League III.
“Runners in scoring position is something you need. You need runs to win a game.” Fix said.
The finish to the play is just as important as the setup when attempting a steal. A bad jump can be overcome with a smart slide that avoids the tag.
“Timing is important, but so is sliding,” Syosset's Taylor Renny said. “Obviously if you slide into the glove you’re going to get out, sometimes you need to slide around it.”
Renny showed a penchant for stealing bases last season, swiping 28 bags as a seventh-grader for Syosset. Defensive positioning and the catcher’s throws are things Renny looks at when she’s on base.
“I look at how the defense sets up, maybe the shortstop isn’t playing close to the base,” Renny said. “Maybe I see that the catcher has a long pop time and I look at that as an opportunity to steal.”
Catchers are tasked with slowing down the run game, but rarely do they focus on running themselves. Madison Sturtz of East Islip is looking to change that notion. The senior stole 17 bases a season ago for the Suffolk Class A champions.
“I think people are surprised about me stealing bases. Being the catcher, usually you aren’t fast,” Sturtz said. “Everyone thinks it’s different from what they get from an ordinary catcher.”
Sturtz uses her position to her advantage. When she is preparing to steal, she puts herself into the mind of the catcher behind the plate.
“Being a catcher, you see the whole field and you know the situations in which people would attempt to steal,” Sturtz said. “So I know the situations where the catcher is expecting me to go and I can make adjustments to my lead and slide.”
Analyzing the pitcher is one way Baldwin's Dylan Reyer decides when she should take off. The senior watches closely to the sequence of pitches and the selection of the next pitch could be what tells her to go.
“It depends on pitch selection sometimes, whether I’ll decide to go,” Reyer said. “If the ball has a chance to go in the dirt, or it’s a changeup, that’s an advantage.”
Reyer hopes to become the most prolific base-stealer in New York State history. She went 21-for-21 on steals last season and has already stolen six bases in a game against Wheatley this season.
The NYSPHSAA website lists the single-season record as 56.
“I want to break the state record for stolen bases in a season,” Reyer said. “I think I’m very capable of achieving that and I’m looking forward to trying for the record.”