Softball team prepares for 2019 spring season
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The 2019 varsity softball team from Grayling High School has a young group this year but the roster has a lot of players with varsity experience.
Overall numbers for the softball program are a little low again this year.
“They’re low, but not much different than they were last year,” Coach John Junttila said.
Junttila is the new coach for the varsity team. He has previously served as a varsity assistant and as the head coach of the junior varsity squad for the softball program.
Junttila said the program overall is heavy on juniors and freshmen.
“Age wise, it seems like we’re young, but we’ve got four players who played in districts and played in a regional game (two years ago). For a young team, there is some experience there,” Coach Junttila said.
Before the start of official practice sessions on March 11, the players attended open gym workouts in January and February in an effort to get ready for the season. Coach Junttila said the offseason sessions had “good participation,” especially for some of the younger players.
“What was good about it is we had two or three freshmen show up multiple times,” Coach Junttila said. “I think probably the biggest benefit is for the freshmen and the sophomores to come in and get some reps when there aren’t so many people here.”
The team practiced for close to two weeks and then Grayling High School started its spring break on Friday, March 22. Coach Junttila said the first few practice sessions were “good.”
“I thought the attitudes were good,” Coach Junttila said. “I like the attitude. The focus seems to be pretty good. At all four levels we’ve got some good athletes.”
Coach Junttila said the squad’s strengths include athleticism and experience.
“I think we’re athletic and we do have some experience,” Coach Junttila said. “I think potentially we could be a good hitting team. We’ve got players that in the past have shown to be good hitters.”
One of the areas of focus for the team during its first two weeks of practice was “timing” with regard to hitting.
“If there’s one thing I’m focused on with the hitting it’s timing,” Coach Junttila said.
The squad also worked on the basics of throwing and fielding.
“As far as throwing we try to emphasize technique and form with throwing the softball, and on the hitting side, I think the two things, the timing, balance, those are the two biggest things. Timing and balance,” Coach Junttila said.
Key to success this year?
“Stay healthy. We had three decent pitchers last year and at the end they were all hurting. If we can stay healthy I think we can compete,” Coach Junttila said.
The team also needs to determine its optimal line-up after losing several starters to graduation last year.
“We’ve got a ton to figure out on defense. We don’t have the same starters at the same places. We’ve got a solid returning catcher, we’ve got returning pitchers. For the most part, our infield positions are open to competition, whoever’s going to win the spot,” Coach Junttila said. “Athletically, I think we’ve got kids that can pull it off.”
Goals for the year? Coach Junttila said he would like to see the group improve overall and be more consistent.
“My goal is that we compete consistently. I would like to be competitive at districts. If we as coaches are doing our job, we want to be peaking at that time of the season,” Coach Junttila said.
How to do that? One pitch at a time.
“My emphasis this year is ‘win this pitch.’ Don’t worry about the last pitch or the next pitch. Win this pitch. I think that phrase applies to everyone. Batter, fielder, pitcher. Bring the focus back to something small. If we ‘win this pitch’ enough we’ll win some games and have a good season,” Coach Junttila said.
Coach Junttila said his expectations of the players on a daily basis are simple.
“There’s two things I’m looking at. I want them to play hard and I want them to have fun,” Coach Junttila said.
The varsity softball squad’s season opener is slated for Thursday, April 4, at 4 p.m. at West Branch Ogemaw Heights. The Vikings are slated to play at Harrison on Monday, April 8, at 4 p.m. Grayling also has road doubleheaders scheduled for April 11 at Farwell and April 15 at Roscommon.
The softball team’s 2019 home opener is slated for Wednesday, April 17, vs. Beaverton.